Afghanistan says more than half of provinces poppy-free

Poppy cultivation remained high in those parts of the country where the Taliban insurgency is at its most deadly.

Reuters September 06, 2011

KABUL: Poppy cultivation has been eradicated from more than half of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, the minister for counter-narcotics said on Tuesday, but the fight ahead remains hard as the anti-drug campaign moves to the most insecure parts of the country.

Afghanistan, which supplies about 77 percent of the world's opium, was making progress by building on the success achieved in the southern province of Helmand, Zarar Ahmad Moqbel Osmani told a conference of drug enforcement officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Russia.

"This year the number of provinces eradicated from poppy increased from 12 to 18, the number of villages from 302 to 584," he said.

But poppy cultivation remained high in those parts of the country where the Taliban insurgency is at its most deadly.

Osmani quoted from a 2010 survey by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime that said that 91 percent of the poppy lands were located in insecure provinces.

Taliban-led militants are believed to derive $100-to-$400 million a year from production and drug trafficking, fuelling insecurity.

Poppy cultivation in Helmand, a key province that produces around half the country's opium, has fallen though due to a programme of crop substitution, eradication and enforcement.

"We're trying to use Helmand as a model to prevent poppy cultivation in other provinces if we receive necessary assistance from allied countries." Osmani said.

Foreign troops fighting the decade-long war against a Taliban-led insurgency have largely abandoned eradicating poppy crops themselves because of the hostility it generates among poor Afghan farmers whose support they are trying to win.

But foreign governments have been trying to wean farmers off poppy cultivation by offering incentives to grow legal crops.

The United States, Britain and Denmark will again finance a $13 million programme this year to distribute subsidised wheat and fertiliser to 42,000 Helmand farmers.

Farmers pay only a quarter of the market price of the package.

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