The Afghanistan economy must shift reliance off its poppy crop toward agriculture and mining. The government began a massive poppy eradication campaign this week.
Why does the Afghanistan economy matter to the world?
Afghanistan's current budget: $1.1 billion. And $400 million of that comes from foreign donors.
To close that gap, Afghanistan cannot rely on the current dynamo of its economy – poppy. While it accounts for nearly 30 percent of the country's gross domestic product, and 90 percent of the world's heroine, it's unlikely to ever be legalized and, therefore, taxed. On Wednesday, the government launched a massive poppy eradication program, starting in the south.
What can be done to build up the remaining 70 percent of the economy?
Policymakers zero in on two areas to grow Afghanistan's $11.4 billion economy: agriculture and mining. Farming has big potential by virtue of its huge workforce, and mining holds the prospect of untapped value in the billions of dollars. Both, however, will take years to develop and improved security to encourage investment.
Mining is currently a $52 million a year industry – less than 1 percent of the economy. But a few big-name projects highlight its potential. In a deal with the Chinese in 2007, the Aynak copper mine will bring in $1 billion of annual revenue for Kabul. And bids were due Feb. 15 to exploit Hajigak, a massive iron ore deposit.
"That's estimated to bring in up to $3 billion a year in government revenues for centuries," says Craig Steffensen, Afghanistan country director for the Asian Development Bank. "I think the mining sector is this magic bullet that everyone is looking for to sustain things without [foreign donors] having to cover costs until kingdom come."