HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html UN Cites Failure To Uproot Opium
Pubdate: Mon, 19 Aug 2002
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2002 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Charles J. Hanley, Associated Press


KABUL, Afghanistan - The new Afghan government has ''largely failed'' in 
its four-month 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, UN specialists reported yesterday.

Their figures show this year's crop 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 UN 
Food and Agriculture Organization. Afghanistan's gross domestic product 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. In 2000, the Taliban government banned poppy cultivation, which led 
to a 96 percent reduction in acreage devoted to the crop in last year's 
growing season, according to UN and US drug agencies.

But the US-led war that ousted the Taliban late last year prompted Afghan 
farmers to plant poppy 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 UN 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 President Mohammad Khatami of Iran on his visit to Kabul 
last week. Iran has an estimated 2 million opium and heroin addicts.

The UN poppy forecast came in a section of a joint report by the Food and 
Agriculture Organization and the UN World Food Program assessing 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 

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,'' Maletta said at a news briefing, and eradication 
is ''only a transient thing. It can be replanted.''

The Taliban prohibition had driven up prices for Afghan opium to about $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 UN report said. It said poppy is estimated to 
have reduced the area of irrigated wheat by about 10 percent.

Karzai, at a antidrug conference in Kabul, reiterated his government's 
commitment to eradicating poppy. ''We are determined, like hell, to fight 
the cultivation of poppy,'' he said.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart