VIENNA — Afghanistan is not only the world's largest supplier of opium, it also is the global leader in hashish production, the United Nations said Wednesday.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said it estimates that 10,000 to 24,000 hectares (24,700 to 59,300 acres) of cannabis are grown in Afghanistan every year and that this is used to make an estimated 1,500 to 3,500 tons of hashish annually.
"While other countries have even larger cannabis cultivation, the astonishing yield of the Afghan cannabis crop ... makes Afghanistan the world's biggest producer of hashish," UNODC chief Antonio Maria Costa said in a statement.
Afghanistan produces 145 kilograms (319 pounds) of hashish per hectare of cannabis, compared to about 40 kilograms (88 pounds) per hectare in Morocco, Costa said.
Hashish is the resin produced from cannabis, also known as marijuana.
Basing its findings on information from 1,634 Afghan villages in 20 provinces, UNODC said it is three times cheaper to cultivate a hectare of cannabis in the country than it is a hectare of opium. As a result, it said, the net income of a hectare of cannabis is $3,341 (euro2,490) – compared to $2,005 (euro1,495) per hectare of opium.
In total, 17 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces – mainly in the country's unstable south – have large-scale cannabis cultivation according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
Still, since cannabis has a short shelf life and is grown in summer when less water is available, Afghan farmers continue to prefer opium to cannabis, it said. Last year, more than two-thirds of cannabis farmers also cultivated opium.
Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the world's opium, the main ingredient in heroin, and the highly lucrative crop has helped finance insurgents and fuel corruption.
Cannabis also benefits rebel groups, Costa warned.
"All drugs in Afghanistan, whether opium or cannabis, are taxed by those who control the territory, providing an additional source of revenue for insurgents," Costa said.
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