Opium in Afghanistan

Let's turn the microphone over to the very intelligent Jeffrey Clemens, who is now a Ph.d. student at Harvard I believe:

Recent estimates suggest that in 2007, Afghan opiate production accounted for about 93 percent of the world's total. This article presents a framework for estimating the potential for source country drug control policies to reduce this production. It contains a first pass at estimating the potential for policy to shift the supply of opium upward, as well as a range of supply and demand elasticities. The estimates suggest that meager reductions in production can be expected through alternative development programs alone (reductions are less than 6.5 percent in all but one of the specifications presented). They also suggest that substantial increases in crop eradication would be needed to achieve even moderate reductions in production (reductions range from 3.0 percent to 19.4 percent for various specifications). The results also imply that, all else being equal, the cessation of crop eradication would result in only modest increases in opiate production (with estimates ranging from 1.6 percent to 9.6 percent).

I can't find an ungated copy, can you?  In any case, the bottom line seems to be that this problem won't get solved.


my 2 censt worth, you need bold action for a problem of this scale


From November 2008:
"But prices have dropped about 20 percent because, after three years of good harvests, the supply of opium far exceeds global demand. Costa said that the price would have dropped even more if opium had not been kept off the market by the Taliban, drug lords and even some farmers."

From the abstract, it seems that the problem can't be solved by a supply side policy, it would be good to have some similar estimates for demand-side policies. Also, to add to Bob's comment, it seems that(http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/01/world/asia/01iht-drugs.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=myanmar%20opium&st=cse) some of Myanmar's rebels have a big opium production potential and that production there may increase in the next months because of the recent conflicts at the borders.

Yep, the problem will not get solved by conventional means.

Perhaps the government should purchase the opium at a premium to the Taliban.

Jeff Clemens is very intelligent indeed. And yes, he is a PhD student at Harvard right now. Why is he not running Afghanistan? Because he prefers air conditioning to heroine.

Just let Pfizer or Merck or JNJ or P&G or any of the Brystol Myers produce the opium.

I think you mean to say let them sell and market opium as freely as they have sold cold medicines that are by and large the modern equivalents of the patent medicines that introduced Americans to the opiates and coca derivatives.

The Afghanis would certainly make a lot of money supplying these drug companies.

wonder what the production cost & avg yield comparison is to say india which has the US pharma market . whether itd be worth pharma getting involved or if sharecropping would be the death of them.

Can we solve the "problem" without collapsing Afghanistan's economy? Why not just legalize drugs? Or, at least, buy the drugs and then dump them in the ocean?

Ungated copy is at his website -- http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~clemens/papers.html

And I apologize for misspelling "heroin" earlier.

The Afghan government should purchase the heroin from the Afghan farmer and pay him partly in Afghan government bonds, making the farmer have some stake in the continuation of the government. The US could support the Afghan bonds.

A debate that never ends:

"Thursday, October 9, 2008
Some Proposals Make Too Much Sense
Also from Nick Gillespie on Reason, a great idea from Hitchens:

"Over at Slate, Christopher Hitchens proposes a novel solution to the "problem" of Afghan farmers continued interest in growing opium poppies, their biggest cash crop: The U.S. should buy the crop rather than letting the Taliban do so.

We don't have to smoke the stuff once we have purchased it: It can be burned or thrown away or perhaps more profitably used to manufacture the painkillers of which the United States currently suffers a shortage. (As it is, we allow Turkey to cultivate opium poppy fields for precisely this purpose.) ...

Read the rest. Too reasonable to go anywhere, of course. "

Since I suffer from kidney stones and migraines, I say that we manufacture painkillers.

Last I heard, Afghan opium producers get c. $4 billion USD annually for their crop, which is some fraction of what the US and NATO are spending on operations there. In concord with Mr. Hitchens's views, let the US and/or the UK and/or whatever NATO member states care to participate, purchase each year's crop outright (we can deal with Burmese, Laotian, Tasmanian production similarly, perhaps); each year's (Afghan) production could be readily airlifted to Guam or some other remote outpost for incineration, if that's what is wished, or it may be released for sale to keep the Portuguese happy (is heroin in fact a part of their current drug policy?).
And just remember: without opium, we would never have had the Rolling Stones we've come to love and admire.

And perhaps, since the Pashtun support the Taliban, rather than opium supporting the Taliban, isn't it likely that whatever crop they grow to survive will have the same effect? Maybe the problem isn't opium, but the fact that the Pashtun support the Taliban, and perhaps focusing on opium is a way to avoid confronting that fact. Suppose they all grew potatoes and exported them to Tajikistan and used the profits to fund an insurgency -- would we talk about how an explosion in potato cultivation was fueling anti-American activities?

Since the Pashtun have to live, and they seem to support the Taliban, what's the anti-insurgency point of shifting them from one crop to another? They still support the Taliban.

Talkingcat is a genius parody.

There is no problem to solve. Violating farmers rights to grow what they want is the problem.

What, exactly, is the problem?

Just wanted to second these comments. If anyone has a really decent defense of this ridiculous prohibition policy I would love to hear it.

One of the reasons that counter insurgency efforts in Colombia have been so successful is that cocoa growers were able to develop horticultural techniques that allowed them to produce the same output on a much smaller land foot print. This eliminated the need for the narcotics producers to support a massive insurgency that could control large amounts of territory.

I wonder if something similar is possible with opium.

just by the damn crop, for chrissakes.....

I'm not convinced.

If 93% of the world supply is grown in Afghanistan (and this isn't a function of climate, poppies are quite robust and can grow in large swaths of Europe, the Americas and China, e.g.), this would suggest that even a modicum of government (Afghanistan has been without one for several decades) is very effective at limiting opium production everywhere else.

The same is certainly not true of meth or marijuana which are far easier to produce on a decentralized covert basis even with major regulatory efforts.

Similarly, in Columbia, which is a similar center of cocaine production, the vast majority of production takes place there primarily because it is permitted in insurgent controlled areas.

Opium makes profits like Exxon-Mobil but about one-tenth as much, but that is still alot of money. And there are minerals, gas and oil in Afghanistan. With the pipeline, the place is a gold mine.

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