Afghan Opium Crop Set To Grow In 2007: UN
Afghanistan's opium crop is likely rise again this year after production of the drug saw a record 50 percent jump in 2006, the United Nations warned on Monday in a new blow to eradication efforts.
A United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report also pointed out clear links between the spiralling Taliban insurgency and the drugs trade in Afghanistan, which accounts for 90 percent of the world's heroin.
"This winter survey suggests that opium cultivation in Afghanistan in 2007 may not be lower than the record harvest of 165,000 hectares (407,550 acres) in 2006," the report said.
However "effective countrywide eradication may alter this trend," it added. The government has boosted efforts to plough up poppy fields this year, sparking a handful of often-deadly clashes between police and farmers.
Poppy cultivation would likely increase in 15 provinces and decrease in seven, according to the report based on surveys in 508 villages in December and January.
Among those expected to see an increase were southern provinces worst hit by a Taliban-led insurgency such as Helmand, the biggest opium-growing region.
"The situation is worse in Afghanistan's richly fertile yet highly unstable southern provinces. Bear in mind that this region accounted for more than 50 percent of all opium cultivated in Afghanistan last year," the report said.
There were "clear correlations between insurgency and illicit drug-related activities," it said.
"While this is not new, Afghanistan seems to be the most obvious case in the world of how drug cultivation, refining and trafficking funds political violence, and vice versa."
The UNODC also noted a "new and disturbing" increase in cannabis cultivation.
"The last thing we need is for Afghanistan to switch from one drug to another or -- worse -- to become a world leader in cannabis as well as opium production," its report said.
In 2006 an estimated 50,000 hectares of cannabis was grown compared to 30,000 in 2005, and the figure was likely to rise again this year.
Last year's increase in the cultivation of opium, the raw ingredient of heroin, was a blow to British- and US-backed efforts costing billions of dollars to stop the drugs trade through eradicating poppy crops, cracking down on those involved and offering farmers "alternative livelihoods."
The report found that the main reason that farmers were still growing the crop was that it could earn them 10 times more than a cereal per hectare.
Farmers also felt protected against the authorities by Taliban who earned revenue through cultivation, UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa told AFP.
Much of the problem in the south was related to corruption, including in the judiciary, and the lack of government or military authority, he said.
"Anywhere in the world, not only in Afghanistan, this sort of illicit activity is related to a lack of control of territory by authorities. It's not poverty...," he said, referring to claims by poor farmers that poppies are the most lucrative cash crop.
I sincerely hope they don't mind too terribly my re-printing the whole thing ... The only real question I have at this point is, how can I get a piece of this action? It would seem a profitable backstop to the inherent uncertainties of my 401K, not to mention the pension that I'll never live to see.