Pubdate: Mon, 19 Aug 2002
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2002 San Francisco Examiner
Author: Associated Press


KABUL, Afghanistan -- The new Afghan government has "largely failed" in its 
4-month-old effort to eradicate the opium poppy crop in Afghanistan, which 
in recent years became the world's biggest producer of the raw material for 
heroin, U.N. crop experts reported Sunday.

Their figures show the 2002 crop, close to the high levels of the late 
1990s, could be worth more than $1 billion at the farm level in Afghanistan.

"That's a big chunk of GDP," said Hector Maletta, a spokesman for the U.N. 
Food and Agriculture Organization. This impoverished nation's gross 
domestic product (GDP) for 1999, the latest estimate available, was put at 
$21 billion.

By the late 1990s, Afghanistan was supplying 70 percent of the world's 
opium. Then, in 2000, the Taliban government banned poppy cultivation, and 
U.N. and U.S. drug agencies determined that this led to an almost total -- 
96 percent-- reduction in acreage devoted to the crop in the 2001 growing 

But the U.S.-led war that ousted the Taliban late last year prompted Afghan 
farmers to plant poppy again over tens of thousands of acres.

In April, the interim government of President Hamid Karzai announced an 
eradication program. Farmers would be compensated with $500 per acre for 
destroyed poppy, the government said. That's only a fraction of the 
estimated $6,400 per acre of gross income a farmer can earn on poppy, 
according to the FAO report.

The government efforts failed despite pressure from the United States, 
Western Europe and other countries that fear a sharp rise in the supply of 
heroin. Only relatively small patches of opium in several regions of 
Afghanistan were destroyed.

The great bulk of heroin produced from Afghan opium is used by addicts in 
Europe. The British government, in particular, has pressured Karzai to 
crack down, as did Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on a visit to Kabul 
last week. Iran has an estimated 2 million opium and heroin addicts.

The U.N. poppy forecast came in a section of a joint report by the FAO and 
the U.N. World Food Program assessing all Afghan crops and food supplies.

"The Afghan Interim Administration banned opium production in January 2002 
but by then most opium fields were already sown," the report said. "The 
subsequent Poppy Eradication Program largely failed to achieve its objectives."

It estimated that 225,000 acres of poppy were planted, and 150,000 to 
175,000 acres have been or will be harvested.

"The government program had a very limited impact," the FAO's Maletta told 
a news briefing, and eradication is "only a transient thing. It can be 

The Taliban prohibition had driven prices for Afghan opium up 
astronomically, approaching $500 a pound, and the "farm gate" price remains 
relatively high, Maletta said, at $160 to $180 a pound. Farmers can produce 
some 35 pounds per acre of opium, a gum squeezed and scraped from the 
flower pods.

The move back into poppy cultivation, which in recent years has supported 
tens of thousands of Afghan farmers and farm laborers, has hurt the 
domestic food supply, the U.N. report said. It said poppy is estimated to 
have reduced the area of irrigated wheat by some 10 percent.

President Karzai, at a recent anti-drug conference in Kabul, reiterated his 
government's commitment to eradicating the drug crop.

"We are determined, like hell, to fight the cultivation of poppy, to work 
against the trafficking of drugs, and to destroy all forms of this menace's 
cultivation and use and trafficking," he said.

The U.N. specialists predicted an even larger crop next year, however.

"The returns and employment opportunities are high and the risks are seen 
to be low given the large numbers of farmers involved and the perceived 
improbability of prosecutions," they wrote.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart