Opium Production in the Golden Crescent


Main Production Areas

The main producers in this region are Afghanistan and Pakistan. Only a little information is available on production in Iran and Lebanon. From INCSR estimates () the total cultivation area of poppies which are planted for opium in this region is thought to be about 30 000 ha.

Method of Cultivation

Growing Procedure

The poppy is cultivated in this region of the world mostly as an autumn-sown crop, with sowing taking place between October and December. The exact sowing period is dependent on the ecological conditions of the countryside and starts earlier in cooler climates, in some cases in September. Irrigation possibilities may also affect the determination of the sowing date.

According to the data available, the amount of seed used for plantation varies in a wide range between 5-10kg/ha.

In many areas of this region, especially in Afghanistan and the dry areas of Pakistan, the precondition for success in cultivation is proper irrigation. Irrigation is usually started in the spring and is repeated 8-14 times until ripening of the capsules is underway, according to the weather conditions. No irrigation is allowed during the lancing period.


Lancing of the capsules begins after 15-20 days of flowering, when the maximum yields of latex and morphine are expected. Lancing in times in a year and repeated at intervals of two or three days in each session. In the majority of cases it is carried out during May and June, but it has also been reported that lancing can take place as early as April in the extremely warm regions, or as late as August if the weather is cool. In Pakistan, the plant development is accelerated due to the warm conditions and the harvest can be started even earlier, in March.

Processing of the Opium

In this region clandestine laboratories are reported to be very active in processing opium to obtain the commercial products of morphine and heroin. According to Government data of Lebanon (INCB, 1995), 2.5-3 tonnes of morphine base are converted into heroin annually in that country.

Although the gene centre of the opium poppy is identified as the Near East and Middle Asia, the plant can be successfully grown in such diverse areas as most parts of Europe, Asia, North and East Africa, South America, Australia, etc. In tropical countries the plant is mainly cultivated for its opium (). The seed, which is considered to be a by-product, is also utilized in cooking and is considered to be a good source of oil and protein.

The main product, however, is opium, which is the sun-dried latex of the unripe capsule. It is obtained by lancing the capsule and is formulated afterwards by a simple technological procedure. From the practical point of view five alkaloids of main importance can be distinguished in opium — morphine, codeine, thebaine, narcotine and papaverine. Opium on a dry basis contains 9-14% morphine, 0.7-2.5% codeine, 0.3-1.5% thebaine, 5.5-11.0% narcotine and up to 1% papaverine (). The ratio of alkaloid content may vary from country to country. For instance, Indian opium is richer in codeine as compared to the codeine content of opium produced in more temperate climates. There are also significant differences in composition of opium produced at the same location depending on the actual climatic conditions experienced in a certain year. From the data of Kaicker et al. (1978) the morphine content of opium can even reach 18-20% in the Delhi region due to extended ranges of temperature, as well as a higher relative humidity. Bernath et al. (1988) also noted the importance of the origin of the plant material in the composition of opium.