- The new Afghan government has "largely failed"
in its effort to eradicate the opium poppy crop in Afghanistan, which in
recent years became the world's biggest producer of the raw material for
heroin, United Nations crop experts reported yesterday.
- The 2002 crop was close to the record levels of the late
1990s and could be worth more than $1 billion (£650 million) at the
farm level in Afghanistan. The nation's GDP for 1999 was put at $21 billion
- By the late 1990s, Afghanistan was supplying 70 per cent
of the world's opium. Then, in 2000, the Taleban government banned poppy
cultivation and UN and US drug agencies determined that this led to an
almost total - 96 per cent - reduction in acreage devoted to the crop in
the 2001 growing season.
- However, the US-led war that ousted the Taleban late
last year prompted Afghan farmers to plant poppies again over tens of thousands
of acres. In April, the interim government of President Hamid Karzai announced
an eradication programme.
- Under its terms, farmers would be compensated with $500
(£325) per acre for destroyed poppy, the government said. That is
only a fraction of the estimated $6,400 per acre a farmer can earn on poppy,
according to the FAO report.
- The government effort, however, never reached the level
of required to tear up or burn the crop, which is cultivated so extensively,
in relatively small patches, in several regions of Afghanistan.
- The poppy forecast came in a joint report by the FAO
and the World Food Programme assessing all Afghan crops and food supplies.
"The Afghan Interim Administration banned opium production in January
2002, but by then most opium fields were already sown," the report
said. "The subsequent eradication programme largely failed."
- It estimated that 225,000 acres of poppy had been planted,
and 150,000 to 175,000 acres have been or will be harvested. "The
programme had a very limited impact," Hector Maletta, a spokesman
for the FAO, said. He added that eradication was "a transient thing.
It can be replanted".
- The Taleban prohibition had driven prices for Afghan
opium up astronomically, approaching $1,000 a kilogram, and the "farm
gate" price remained relatively high, Mr Maletta said, at $350 to
$400 a kilogram. Farmers can produce 16 kilograms per acre of opium.
- The great bulk of the heroin produced from Afghan opium
- with some of the drug made in Afghanistan, but most in Turkey and other
countries - is used by addicts in Europe.
- The move back into poppy cultivation, which has supported
tens of thousands of Afghan farmers and farm labourers, has hurt the domestic
food supply, the UN report said. It said that poppy production was estimated
to have reduced the area of irrigated wheat by some 10 per cent.
- President Karzai, at an anti-drug conference in Kabul,
repeated his government's commitment. "We are determined, like hell,
to fight the cultivation of poppy ... and to destroy all forms of this
menace's cultivation and use and trafficking," he said.
- The UN specialists predicted an even larger crop next
year, however. "The returns are high and the risks are seen to be
low," they wrote.