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Afghanistan opium poppy cultivation at record high: UN

Kabul, Nov 12 (AFP) Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan reached a record high in 2014, a United Nations report revealed today, highlighting the failure of the multi-billion-dollar US-led campaign to crack down on the lucrative crop.

The total area under cultivation was about 553,500 acres in 2014, a seven per cent increase on last year, according to the Afghanistan Opium Survey released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Just 74,000 hectares was being used to grow poppies in 2002, a year after the Taliban regime was toppled.

Despite a decade of costly US and international counter-narcotics programmes, poppy farming has boomed in the south and west regions, which include the most volatile parts of the country where the Taliban insurgency is strongest.

With US-led NATO troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, fears are rising that worsening instability could trigger further growth in opium cultivation as Afghan security forces struggle to push back the resurgent Taliban.

“The country is having to stand on its own feet (and)… will have to deal with this criminalisation of its economics and politics as a matter of priority,” Jean-Luc Lemahieu, director of policy analysis at UNODC, said.

Poppy farmers are often taxed by the Taliban, who use the cash to help fund their insurgency against government and NATO forces.

Despite the presence of tens of thousands of foreign troops since a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban, Afghanistan grows about 80 per cent of the world’s opium, which is used to produce highly addictive heroin.

The survey said that potential opium production was estimated at 6,400 tons in 2014, a rapid increase of 17 per cent from 2013, but not as high as the record 7,400 tons produced in 2007.

“In 2014, opium prices decreased in all regions of Afghanistan. One probable reason for the decrease was an increase in supply due to an increase in production,” the survey said.

It said that the “farm-gate” value of opium in Afghanistan was about USD 0.85 billion — four per cent of the country’s GDP.

Just 2,692 hectares of poppy fields were eradicated in 2014 — a 63 per cent drop from the previous year.

“Most of the areas in which we were fighting cultivation was under enemy control. This affected our plans very badly,” Mubariz Rashidi, acting minister of counter narcotics, told reporters.

“The security forces that should have destroyed the poppy fields were busy providing security for the presidential elections.

“With opium, Afghanistan cannot go towards progress, prosperity and development,” he added.

Earlier this year the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko warned that the country could turn into “a narco-criminal state” after the bulk of the NATO-led force withdraws.

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