Drug-addict Afghanistan reluctant to part with its crops

Financial worries and pressure on farmers from drug profiteers may cause opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan to rise in 2006 following an unprecedented decrease this year, according to a U.N. official.

The 21 percent reduction in the amount of land used for opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan this year is the largest decrease ever recorded in a single year in any country, said Doris Buddenberg, the representative of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Kabul.

While favorable weather boosted crop yields, making the drop in production a far less impressive 2.4 percent, Buddenberg called the decrease in land under cultivation "a significant step forward in drug control."

"The question is now ... is this reduction sustainable?" she said. "And there the news is not very good."

Buddenberg said there are signs that cultivation may increase next year in many areas, in part because of pressure on farmers to grow opium poppies and their own concerns about making a living.

The international community has earmarked US$490 million in the current fiscal year to help Afghan farmers find alternative sources of income, but it takes time to switch crops, she said.

"If you want to have pomegranate trees, they need many years to grow," she added.

Farmers also come under pressure from the traders and traffickers who profit most from Afghan opium production, she said. Of the estimated US$2.7 billion export value of this year's crop - the equivalent of 52 percent of the country's gross domestic product - only 20 percent went to farmers.

The drug-use survey found that 920,000 Afghans use drugs, or about 3.8 percent of the population, including 150,000 who use opium, 50,000 who use heroin and 520,000 who use hashish. Among heroin users, it said, about 15 percent of males and very few women inject the drug, the AP reports.


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