This paper was a project in Economic Geography that I thought I would post since it is somewhat relevant and also since I am in the midst of writing the bulk of the Central Asian research project. All posts that have previously been mentioned as planned will still appear but will likely have to wait until the paper is finished which means after the new year with the exception of Regions & Resources, which is nearly complete.

*The structure and format of this paper was specific to the project*

In 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan to fight Al-Qaeda and the terrorist networks responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Opium production in Afghanistan has since increased from the pre-invasion production levels to a point today that more than doubles that amount.[i] A growing concern for the future of Afghan security is in the opium fields, which are estimated to supply about 90% of the world’s opium.[ii]

The decision for farmers to produce opium is not merely for profit. It is not always more profitable than legal or licit crops but is widely grown since it travels very easily, stores for long periods of time, and creates wage labor in rural areas.[iii] Wealthy farmers will diversify their crops and, “In this context, opium is a rural livelihood strategy that is highly dependent on resources such as favorable geography, access to irrigated land and thriving markets, and diverse crops. Afghans who are unable to take advantage of these are likely to experience increased opium dependency.”[iv]

Finally, the motivation to combat the opium problem from the government seems disingenuous since there have been multiple occasions where Afghan officials have been caught or implicated in the drug trade. [v] Further, the counter-narcotics policies of Western governments seem to allow for the expansion, or at least the sustainability, of the opium trade. These policies target those who cultivate opium as a last resort and are at the core of the supply problem, but neglect the wealthy land owners whose profits will actually increase due to diverse crop substitution that allows them to reap the premiums associated with a decreased supply of opium. [vi]

Who is Most Affected by The Afghan Opium Trade?

Russia is one country that is notoriously affected by the opium trade of Afghanistan. There are over 30,000 youth deaths in Russia every year from opium use.[vii] It leads the world in heroin use and their user’s amount to 2.5 million for a population of 140 million people, which contrasts with China who has the same number of users but with a population level of 1.34 billion people.[viii]  This is an obvious threat to national security as well as a contributing factor in Russia’s ongoing demographic crisis.[ix]

The demographic crisis in Russia stems from the low birth rates and high mortality rates of the late and post-Soviet era and has been identified as an ongoing crisis. Russian birth rates remain low despite improvements due to government programs but the gender gap of lifetime expectancy is the highest in the world.[x] The drug problem has also exacerbated the HIV problem due to the widespread use of needles, contributing further to this crisis.

Russia has urged for international cooperation on the matter, particularly from the US due to their occupation of Afghanistan where most opium is grown.[xi] The problem is not uniquely Russian; the drug trade has to make its way through Central Asia where Russia is not always allowed a military presence. They have increased border troops in Tajikistan but lack the necessary permission to station troops in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.[xii] Who is transporting the drugs maybe an even larger problem. Islamic groups within Afghanistan, members of organized crime, and even Russian government organizations have been suspected of being complicit.[xiii]


            The sources used in this article are all from respected sources of journalism with the one exception being the academic paper from DePaul University. Although more current articles were available, I chose to use those that most accurately described the situation at hand and dealt with multiple issues. As you can see, most sources are cited more than once as they contained the most useful information.

Tom Peter of the Christian Science Monitor writes about the increasing production of Afghan opium in an article from October 11th, 2012. He notes that crop blight has limited agricultural production this year and that will force farmers to gravitate towards the poppy to compensate for lost revenue due to the increase in price. Most interestingly, he notes that the Taliban has used the disagreement between farmers and the government to recruit those unhappy with the government’s stand.

In the New York Times, Alissa Rubin and Matthew Rosenberg give a brief history on the efforts, in dollar amounts, of the US to combat the opium problem. More importantly, they look forward to the possible reactions of this year’s crop blight on the economy of Afghanistan as well as what the future hold in 2014, when the US is scheduled to draw down forces.

            Opium production and distribution: Poppies, profits and power in Afghanistan is an academic paper from the graduate school at DePaul University. It is not written by a professor but being a thesis, it was peer-reviewed by a panel of professors in an International Studies program. It is a lengthy dissertation on the Afghan opium problem with many interesting points and I would be lying if I said that I read the entire document.

Stratfor, short for strategic forecasting, is a bi-partisan policy research center that publishes free weekly articles for those that sign up for the email list. Normally, this is a site that requires a subscription but when one can get top-notch analysis for free, why go elsewhere? The article referenced covers Russia’s demographic crisis with regards to the heroin problem. It is one of the few articles that actually cites statistics from Russia’s health ministry as well as identifies Russian institutions that may have a role in the drug trade.

An article by Ellen Barry, also from the New York Times, goes into details about the relationship between the US and Russia concerning the Afghan opium trade. The change in US policy away from the destruction of poppy fields is described as “dramatic” as it considers what the outcomes would be for the Afghan people if the fields were destroyed and this is the case that is made as to why the US has stopped the eradication of the poppy.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace featured a collaboration of six authors in an article titled “Russia’s Demographic Crisis” and it seems to be the most informative of the sources. It takes a look at the demographic indicators of Russia in 2011 as a means to identify exactly where the problems are located.

The articles from Stratfor and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace seem to be the most informative and provide raw data to support their arguments while the academic paper is, of course, an excellent resource. The New York Times and Atlantic articles are also fantastic discussions of the problem at hand but being more focused they are not as informative as others.


            While Afghans will notice the most ’cause and effect’ from the drug trade on their everyday life, Russians are affected the most by the trade. With a demographic crisis ongoing, the opium trade threatens the future of the country and a population that is already insufficient to meet its needs in as little as ten years to two decades. Most agree that the crisis will have the most affect around 2030. [xiv]

The bulk of the discussion now refers to birth and mortality rates since the collapse of the USSR, but demographic indicators are the ‘cause’ not the ‘effect’ of the crisis. The economic impact of a nation without the necessary workforce could be devastating. Finding ten million people to fill the employment gaps would be challenging in any country but for Russia it would be even more difficult without the benefit of English as lingua franca.

Russia is beginning to wage its own war on drugs at a time when the US policy, at least internationally, has seemed to shift to avoid a prolonged economic downturn in Afghanistan by way of ceasing the eradication program. There is a conflict of interests at play in Afghanistan between the US and Russia as well as the Afghanis and low-income farmers, of which the Taliban seems to be taking advantage.

[i] Peter, Tom, Christian Science Monitor, Afghanistan still world’s top opium supplier, despite 10 years of US-led war  (10/11/2011).

[ii] Alissa Rubin and Matthew Rosenberg, The New York Times, U.S. Efforts Fail to Curtail Trade in Afghan Opium,

[iii] Nicoletti, Michael, “Opium production and distribution: Poppies, profits and power in Afghanistan” (2011).

[iv] Nicoletti, Michael, “Opium production and distribution: Poppies, profits and power in Afghanistan” (2011).

[v] Alissa Rubin and Matthew Rosenberg, The New York Times, U.S. Efforts Fail to Curtail Trade in Afghan Opium. (05/26/12).

[vi] Nicoletti, Michael, “Opium production and distribution: Poppies, profits and power in Afghanistan” (2011).

[vii] Stratfor, Russia: Heroin and a Bleak Demographic Picture, (3/12/2009).

[viii] Ellen Barry, The New York Times, Russia, Plagued by Heroin Use, to Press U.S. on Destroying Afghan Poppy Crops. (9/22/09).

[ix] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Russia’s Demographic Crisis,

[x] Heineman Jr., Ben W., The Atlantic, In Russia, A Demographic Crisis and Worries for a Nation’s Future.

[xi] Ellen Barry, Russia, The New York Times, Plagued by Heroin Use, to Press U.S. on Destroying Afghan Poppy Crops.

[xii] Stratfor, Russia: Heroin and a Bleak Demographic Picture. (3/12/09)

[xiii] Stratfor, Russia: Heroin and a Bleak Demographic Picture. (3/12/09)

[xiv] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Russia’s Demographic Crisis. (1/26/2011).