Afghanistan opium production up 43% - UN drugs watchdog

BBC Asia

Opium production in Afghanistan has increased by 43% in the past year, United Nations officials have said.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said the area used to farm the poppy plant, the source of opium, increased by 10% to 201,000 hectares.  But better farming conditions resulted in a higher yield per hectare, increasing overall production.

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of the substance, which is the main ingredient in heroin. Growing opium is a crime in the country, but it is still a major cash crop for impoverished farming communities.  The Taliban also taxes poppy production in areas it controls, which is a major source of income for its military activities.

UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov said the figures were "a worrying reversal in efforts".

Just 355 hectares (877 acres) of poppies were eradicated by provincial authorities in the last year - down more than a 90% since 2015, when almost 4,000 hectares were cleared.

Seven insurgents and one officer died during attacks on eradication teams this year. Seven more people were injured.  The southern region of the country is the most productive area, accounting for 54% of the entire national opium production. Helmand province, which has seen a resurgent Taliban presence, is the single largest producer, with more than 80,000 hectares of poppy cultivation.

The region was a contested area between the Taliban and Nato-led forces, before the latter withdrew in 2014.

BBC Asia, 23/10/2016

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