The Straits Times (Singapore)
SEP 14 1997

Good year for Afghan's opium producers
By R. Senthilnathan in Vienna

GOOD weather and improved methods of cultivation had resulted in a sharp increase in opium production in Afghanistan this year, United Nations officials said on Friday.

The officials at the Vienna-based UN Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) said that opium-poppy production during the 1996-97 season in Afghanistan, heart of the so-called Golden Crescent, had risen to an estimated 2,800 tonnes. This was almost 25 per cent more than what was produced in the previous season.

The figures were released after an extensive survey done by the organisation in the country. This year's survey covered 18 provinces, eight more than last year.

The opium poppy is the source material for morphine which is then processed into heroin.

The full findings of the survey have not been released, but Mr Bernard Frahi, UNDCP's chief for the central and south-west Asian section, said that the increased harvest should be seen in the light of the stagnation in opium production during the 1995-96 period, when the total yield was around 2,300 tonnes, almost the same as what was cultivated in the previous season.

At that time, he said, bad weather had played a major role in bringing the yield down.

This year, however, the weather had been favourable, enabling a higher yield, Mr Frahi said.

Besides, there were also signs that some farmers may have diverted aid -- including agricultural equipment and fertiliser -- given as part of international programmes to rehabilitate the country to boost their opium production, he added.

Interestingly, 96 per cent of the country's total opium production comes from areas currently under the control of the Taleban, known for their rigid interpretation of the Quran. The Taleban have prohibited the production of cannabis.

Cannabis is used in Afghanistan and the Taleban do not want that, said one UN official.

In the case of opium, the end product, heroin, went out of the country and this could explain the lax attitude of the authorities, the official suggested.

Drug control officials believe 80 per cent of the heroin seized in Europe originates from Afghanistan.

In its annual drug report for this year, the UNDCP said there were an estimated eight million people worldwide who were addicted to heroin and other opiates. The most widely abused drug was cannabis, used by an estimated 141 million people.

The estimated 2,800 tonnes would also mean Afghanistan's opium production is roughly 25 per cent more than that of the combined total of the second major heroin production area, the Golden Triangle encompassing Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Both these regions account for 90 per cent of the world's opiates.

UN drug officials said that in recent years, opium cultivation had also begun in parts of South America, particularly in Colombia, where an estimated 6,500 ha was under cultivation.

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