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Afghan Opium Poppy Production Expected to Fall

The United Nations says that production of opium poppies in Afghanistan is likely to decrease this year. The country remains the world's largest producer of opium. The drug trade is a major source of revenue for Taliban insurgents and is also increasing official corruption in Afghanistan.

U.N and Afghan officials say that low prices of opium and high prices of wheat flour along with drought and pressure from the government have brought down poppy cultivation in most of Afghanistan in 2008.

Releasing findings of an annual winter survey at a news conference in Kabul, top U.N representative for Afghanistan Kai Eide anticipated a further decrease in opium cultivation this year. He says that out of 34 Afghan provinces the number of opium-free provinces could rise from 18 to 22 because of the effected anti-drugs campaign.

"That means that poppy production is no longer in Afghanistan wide problem but it is a problem that is mainly limited to a small number of provinces in the South," said Kai Eide. "And also in the South there are prospects for a significant reduction, which will be a major blow to those who are behind the opium industry."

The top U.N representative urged international donors to bring in additional resources that will help the Afghan government to ensure that reduction in poppy cultivation leads to development in Afghanistan. He says that poppy production has increased in Afghanistan every year since 2002 but now a major reduction is within reach and this year could be a turning point.

"This prognosis must be seen as opening a window of opportunity to deal the poppy industry a significant blow," he said. "But that window of opportunity must be really used effectively by the government and by the donors. And if we do not make full use of that opportunity we could face a backlash soon rather than further progress."

The U.N report says that the price of opium has fallen by about 20 percent over the last year mainly due to overproduction during the past three years. It says that the high price of wheat was the main reason farmers cited for not growing poppies this year.

In the wake of increased insurgent attacks around the country, NATO defense ministers at a meeting in October authorized troops in Afghanistan to launch direct attacks on the drugs trade. But so far there have been no public reports of this order being implemented.

Afghan anti-narcotics minister, General Khodaided, while addressing Sunday's news conference, reiterated that assistance from foreign forces in anti-drugs efforts could be of vital importance.

"NATO forces or coalition forces must take part in interdiction," said Khodaided. "They must hit the convoys of the enemy because drug dealers, drug traffickers, terrorism and al-Qaida; they are the same, they are the enemies of Afghanistan"

Afghanistan's seven key drug producing provinces in the south and southwest produced 98 percent of the country's total output in 2008. The Taliban-led insurgency is most active in these areas.

The United Nations estimates the total export value of last year's poppy crop to have been nearly $3.5 billion. It says that taxes on farmers and traffickers might have helped Taliban insurgents collect up to $500 million.