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Opium cultivation in Afghanistan expected to fall despite high prices

Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is expected to decline slightly this year despite the prevailing high prices of opium, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported today, saying that Government effort to discourage production could yield further reduction.

“This is only an indicator and government policy can stimulate further decline,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the UNODC representative in Afghanistan, when he released the agency’s Opium Winter Rapid Assessment Survey.

The production decrease is expected to be driven by a slightly lower level of cultivation in Helmand and Kandahar in the south, according to the projection.

In turn, a strong increase in cultivation is expected in the north and north-eastern regions, namely in Badakshan, Baghlan and Faryab provinces. Those provinces had low levels of cultivation in previous years, and although in percentage terms the expected increase may be large, in absolute terms the overall cultivation level is expected to remain low compared with southern provinces.

In the southern and western regions, a significant increase is also expected in Herat, Kapisa and Ghor provinces. Baghlan, Faryab, Kapisa and Ghor were all poppy-free in 2010, according to UNODC.

Helmand has shown decreasing poppy cultivation trends over the last three years, declining from 103,590 hectares in 2008 to 65,045 hectares last year. “The political will shown by both the Minister of Counter Narcotics and the Governor of Helmand in tackling poppy cultivation, are exemplary for the country,” said Mr. Lemahieu.

According to the assessment, 73 percent of respondents in the north and 77 per cent in the south said the driving force behind poppy cultivation this year is the high returns from opium sales. The prices of dry and fresh opium rose by 306 per cent and 251 per cent respectively between February 2010 and February this year.

In the south a direct correlation between insecurity, lack of agricultural aid and poppy cultivation was established, according to the assessment.

Some 90 per cent of villages in the south with poor security are involved in poppy cultivation. In the north, the vast majority of the residents – 94 per cent – reported good or very good security at the village level. The expected increase in poppy cultivation even under comparatively good security conditions is a cause for concern, UNODC said.

“Let’s not forget that this latest survey is a prediction, a ‘weather forecast’, and that the exact situation of the poppy cultivation will only be known later in the year, once the estimation from satellite images are completed,” stressed Mr. Lemahieu.

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