Opium cultivation on the rise in Afghanistan

Cultivation of opium poppies has increased in large areas of Afghanistan, according to the results released Monday of a survey by the government and the United Nations.

Widespread forced eradication of poppies is needed in the coming months leading up to harvest time to ensure there isn't another bumper crop this year in Afghanistan, the world's top producer of opium and its derivative heroin, officials warned.

Farmers are planting more opium poppies than last year in 13 provinces, while cultivation levels are stable in 16 provinces and have dropped in three, according to a statement by the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

"We are concerned about these trends," UNODC representative Doris Buddenberg said.

But Counter-narcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi said he was optimistic that widespread eradication as well as programs encouraging farmers to switch from cultivating opium to legal crops would result in a drop in more provinces by later this year.

The survey was carried out in December and January, the start of the poppy growing season, it said. Another survey will be done at the end of the season in autumn.

Afghanistan is the source of nearly 90 percent of the world's opium and heroin despite the international community pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into fighting the trade since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

News of the increased cultivation comes after a drop last year in the number of hectares used to grow poppies of between 21 percent and 48 percent, according to separate surveys by the U.N. and the U.S. State Department, reports the AP.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team