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UN Reports Decline in Afghanistan Opium Production

The United Nations says opium production in Afghanistan has declined for a second consecutive year.

A report issued Wednesday by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says poppy cultivation is down 22 percent this year.  Poppy flowers are used to produce opium, the key ingredient in heroin.

The report says Afghan farmers are making less money on their poppy crops, causing them to switch to more lucrative crops.

It says 123,000 hectares were used to grow opium poppy this year, compared to 157,000 hectares in 2008.

Cultivation was even down in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand province in the south.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a statement saying the report underscores that the new U.S. counter-narcotics strategy is fundamental to combating the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Western officials believe the country's opium trade helps to fund militant groups such as the Taliban.

The executive director of the U.N. drug agency, Antonio Maria Costa, says the "the bottom is starting to fall out of the Afghan opium market."

Afghanistan produces about 90 percent of the world's opium. 

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