Afghanistan's poppy crop this year could yield even more opium than last year

Afghanistan's poppy crop this year could yield even more opium than last year's record harvest because of favorable weather conditions.

Afghanistan's opium crop grew 59 percent in 2006 to 407,000 acres, yielding a record crop of 6,100 tons, enough to make 610 tons of heroin  90 percent of the world's supply, according to the U.N.

"The yield is likely to go up because of the good weather conditions we've had for all agriculture in this country, so I fear that we will be faced with the same amount as last year, perhaps even a little bit more," said Christina Gynna Oguz, the representative in Afghanistan for the U.N.'s Office on Drugs and Crime.

Western and Afghan officials say they expect a similar crop this year.

Oguz said there are close links between Taliban insurgents and criminal networks that deal in drugs. A significant portion of the profits from the US$3.1 billion trade is thought to flow to Taliban fighters, who tax and protect poppy farmers and drug runners.

Oguz said Afghanistan is producing more heroin and morphine than last year because there are more active labs inside the country that are importing chemicals from European countries and China.

She said by flying over opium-producing areas at night, you "would see a lot of small fires in the mountains" from heroin labs.

She said a couple years ago most of the poppies were trafficked out of the country as opium, but now more of the opium is processed into morphine and heroin in Afghanistan, an indication the drug trade is growing in sophistication.

There is little evidence that Afghans were directly involved in trafficking drugs outside the country, she said.

Last year Pakistan seized 24 tons of opium, Iran seized 12 tons, China and Turkey seized nine tons each, and nine tons were seized inside Afghanistan, she said.