Afghan poppy crop growing

2013-04-15 20:27
Eight-year-old Muhammad Bayan harvests opium poppies at his family's field at Maranjan Village in Helmand province. (Bay Ismoyo, AFP)

Eight-year-old Muhammad Bayan harvests opium poppies at his family's field at Maranjan Village in Helmand province. (Bay Ismoyo, AFP)

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Kabul - Afghanistan's opium poppy cultivation was heading for a third consecutive year of increase and a possible record crop, amid high opium prices, an official for the United Nations said on Monday.

Existing crop areas were expanding and cultivation had started in new ones, including some previously declared poppy-free, according to a joint report by the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime and the Afghan Counter-Narcotics Ministry.

"Last year, opium cultivation stood at 154 000 hectares. The year before that was 131 000 in 2011. The latest survey forecast shows an increase this year," Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the head of the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime said.

"In that sense, one could say that it is going to be record cultivation compared to the past. But we don't have the exact figures because this is just a forecast."

In 2007, cultivation hit a record high of 193 000ha, according to the UN.

It could reach or cross that, Lemahieu said. "We do not know if production is going to increase for certain."

He said production depends on the harvest and other factors, including weather, eradication programmes and the like.

According to the UN report, the cultivation is likely to increase in 12 provinces out of 34 - and decrease only in one province - this year.

Only 14 provinces are likely to be poppy-free, the report said. In 2010, there were 20 such provinces.

Largest opium producer

The increase in opium prices was attributed to low levels of security and a lack of agricultural assistance, the Afghanistan Opium Winter Risk Assessment report stated.

"The Risk Assessment 2013 indicated that a strong association between insecurity, lack of agricultural assistance and opium cultivation continues to exist," the report said.

"Villages with a low level of security and those which had not received agricultural assistance in the previous year were significantly more likely to grow poppy in 2013 than villages with good security and those which had received assistance."

Afghanistan is the largest opium producer, with around 90% of the opiates of the world coming from the war-torn nation, despite a decade for eradication programmes and international funds to attract farmers to cultivate other cash crops.

There was a slight slip in crop yield - despite increases in cultivation area - the last two years due to bad weather and diseases damaging the crops, which pushed the price to as high as $300 for a kilogram of opium, five times more than the normal price, according to Afghan officials.

The prediction of an increase comes as Nato-led international troops continue to downsize in number and hand over security responsibilities to Afghan forces, drawing more concern that the local security apparatus is not capable of handling the fight to curtail opium production.

"In particular, there will be a fundamental shift with the withdrawal of the Western military from the rural areas of Afghanistan," a report on opium by the Afghanistan Research Evaluation Unit (AREU) stated in February.

Low levels of opium poppy cultivation will not be maintained in areas where state power is increasingly contested, the report said.

"In these areas, state actors, including Afghan security personnel, are more likely to reach an accommodation with local farmers and the rural elite on opium poppy cultivation." it read.

Read more on:    afghanistan  |  narcotics

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