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UN: Opium Cultivation in Afghanistan Stabilizing

The United Nations released a report Wednesday that shows Afghanistan's opium cultivation is likely to remain stable in 2010. But it says production of opium--the raw material for heroin - may decrease because of bad weather.

"We did a survey to try to ask in villages whether they are planting opium or not," said Angela Me, who is with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. "And what we found is that basically the situation seems to be stable."

She says the number of poppy-free provinces is set to remain stable. According to the U.N., opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has decreased by one-third over the past two years.

She says 17 out of Afghanistan's 34 provinces are poppy-free. And in eight others, she says, production is very low.

But three provinces that last year were poppy-free no longer hold that status. Me says this may in part be because the price of staple crops is right now low - encouraging people to grow poppies instead.

"Unfortunately this year we see also that there is a sharp decrease in the price of crops like wheat so [it] will lead the farmers to go more with illicit crops," she said.

Me says the research highlights that good governance is key to stopping opium production. According to the U.N., poppies are grown in nearly 80 percent of villages with very poor security, but in less than 10 percent of villages that are mostly free of violence.

"If you had a map of Afghanistan where you map the most insecure regions and the regions where we expect the highest cultivation of opium, you can really clearly see that there is very high correlation," Me said.

Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world's opium, the raw ingredient in heroin.

Most of the country's opium is grown in the most violent part of the country, Helmand province.