Managing concurrent and repeated risks: Explaining reductions in opium production in Central Helmand (Afghanistan) in 2008-2011

15 July 2011

Household concerns about food security because of the high wheat prices were key in driving down poppy cultivation between 2008 and 2009. The coercive power of the Afghan State and international military forces also seems to have been a significant factor in determining levels of cultivation in central Helmand in 2010 and 2011. However, the sustainability of these effects will vary among different communities. In general, reductions in poppy cultivation are:

  • most sustainable among communities in proximity to urban centres, with access to diverse income opportunities, government support programmes and better security.
  • least sustainable among communities which have responded to the Government’s poppy ban but which do not have viable alternatives and continue to be exposed to violence and intimidation by both sides in the conflict
  • non-existent among a growing number of communities in the desert north of the Boghra Canal where opium production has provided the means by which to own and cultivate land, and where the Taliban is increasingly seen as providing a relatively secure environment in which households can secure income and accumulate assets.

Policy makers need urgently to consider:

  • the impact of opium bans on communities that are exposed to repeated and concurrent shocks, do not have viable alternatives and where government support for economic development is not in place
  • the detrimental impact of eradication on the consent of the population where it is undertaken in areas recently ‘cleared’ of anti-government elements and where it is conducted in a predatoryand corrupt manner by government officials;
  • the need to focus development assistance on interventions that will support livelihood diversification in the canal command area in central Helmand;
  • the importance of understanding the local socio-economic, political and environmental context in which opium poppy cultivation takes place for the design of effective interventions;
  • focusing on measuring livelihood outcomes, including the transition out of opium poppy cultivation, and how these differ by location and socio-economic group.