The production of opiates (opium, morphine, and heroin) is arguably Afghanistan’s largest illegal economic activity. The gross output of the Afghan illicit opiate economy was estimated to be $1.8-$2.7 billion in 2021. The total value of opiates, including domestic consumption and exports, stood at between 9 to 14 per cent of Afghanistan’s GDP, exceeding the value of its officially recorded licit exports of goods and services (estimated at 9 per cent of GDP in 2020).
At the end of the annual opium cultivation season in July 2021, the area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was estimated at 177,000 hectares. This was a 21 per cent decrease from 2020, representing a contraction of 47,000 hectares. Opium poppy cultivation has been increasing steadily over the past two decades, with an average increase of 4,000 hectares each year since systematic monitoring began in 1994 – albeit with strong yearly fluctuations.
Most of the 2021 opium poppy cultivation took place in the South-western region (79%), followed by the Western region (10%) and Northern region (6%). The Eastern and North-eastern regions accounted for 2% each of total cultivation. The Southern and Central regions together accounted for 0.8% of the total cultivation.
When compared to 2021, opium poppy cultivation decreased by some 18,100 hectares (-50%) in the Western region, by 13,200 hectares (-9%) in the South-western region, by 13,000 hectares (-57%) in the Northern region and by 3,200 hectares (-46%) in the North-eastern region.
Hilmand remained the country’s leading opium poppy cultivating province, followed by Kandahar, Farah, Uruzgan, Badghis, Faryab, Badakhshan, Nimroz and Balkh. The number of poppy-free provinces in 2021 decreased from 12 to 11. Samangan province lost its poppy-free status. The number of provinces affected by opium poppy cultivation increased from 22 to 23.