Home Agriculture Satellite imagery monitors illicit crops in Afghanistan

Satellite imagery monitors illicit crops in Afghanistan

Antonio Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs Crime (UNODC), recently presented the results of the 2003 Afghanistan Annual Opium Poppy Survey. To conduct the survey, UNODC used Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based Space Imaging Middle East (SIME) four- and one-meter-resolution imagery from the IKONOS satellite.

The survey covered Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Nagarhar, Laghman, Kunar and Badakhshan, which account for 90 percent of the production of poppy seeds in Afghanistan. The imagery enabled UNODC to ensure sample-based coverage of all main opium-growing regions in the country. To improve imagery interpretation and account for staggered planting, images were acquired twice per month.

“Our imagery can detect an area as small as one meter square,” said Mohamed El Kadi, SIME managing director. “The imagery was delivered five days after it was collected, which provided UNODC with up-to-date information.”

UNODC coupled the satellite imagery census with fieldwork that covered 28 provinces, 179 districts and 1,800 villages. The fieldwork was used to collect ground-truthing data as well as cultivation information for areas not covered by satellite imagery. Surveyors also collected socio-economic information and opium yield data.

“Farmers plant illicit crops in patches within cereals fields,” explained El Kadi. “Covered by surrounding crop, the illicit crop can’t be depicted unless a thorough ground survey is conducted, which may jeopardize the surveyors. Satellite imagery diminishes the hazards involved in conducting such a survey.”

The survey estimates the annual international trade of Afghan opiates to be $30 billion. Poppy cultivation covered 80,000 hectares in 2003 as opposed to 74,000 in 2002. Production increased from 3,400 metric tons in 2002 to 3,600 metric tons in 2003.