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    LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan: Poppy cultivation may have fallen up to 15 per cent this year in the province that produces around half of Afghanistan’s opium, due to a programme of crop substitution, eradication and enforcement, an Afghan official said.

    But an increase in cultivation in northern Afghanistan, driven by high prices for opium, will partly offset the lower output in Helmand, a critical southern province, the United Nations said recently.

    “We hope we will have a 15 per cent decrease this year in the total cultivation of poppy (in Helmand),” Hamdullah Noori, counter-narcotics adviser to the provincial governor, Gulab Mangal, told Reuters in an interview. Noori and western officials credit this to Mangal’s “food zone programme” that has a carrot and stick approach to stopping poppy cultivation — eradication of some crops combined with support for farmers who chose to grow alternatives like wheat.

    Western experts in Helmand also expect poppy cultivation in the province to be down by between 10 and 15 per cent this year and said improved security after heavy fighting last year has helped as well because it allows farmers of alternative crops to get their goods to market. Afghanistan has long been the world’s leading supplier of opium in a thriving trade worth billions of dollars.

    Taliban-led militants are believed to derive $100-$400 million a year from production and drug trafficking, fuelling insecurity.

    Foreign troops fighting a decade-long war against a Taliban-led insurgency have largely abandoned eradicating poppy crops themselves because of the hostility it generates among poor Afghan farmers whose support they are trying to win.

    Fields under poppy cultivation in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold and the deadliest province for foreign troops of the war, quadrupled between 2005 and 2008 to 103,590 hectares. Last year, the area dropped to 65,045 hectares, down 7 per cent from2009, said the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

    The News 23rd July 2011


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