Afghanistan's Opium
Production Rises Sharply
By Jason Hopps

LONDON (Reuters) - Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, once the world's biggest producer of the illicit drug, has shot up by more than 2,000 tons since the Taliban were driven from power last year, according to a report published on Thursday.
The report's authors said the nascent boom in Afghan poppy production -- banned by the Taliban -- highlighted the urgent need to rebuild the country's shattered infrastructure and wean farmers off the lucrative crop.
Afghan opium is used to make most of the heroin sold in Europe and almost all the heroin that illegally enters Britain. "The expected large rise in Afghan opium production is a major concern," said Roger Howard of DrugScope, Britain's leading drugs charity
"If we are to stop the return to full-scale opium production, the international community must fulfil its commitment to help rebuild Afghan society, giving communities and individuals another option," he said.
The report said that the total yield for Afghan opium production will be between 1,900 and 2,700 metric tons for 2002 -- up from the relatively meager 185 tons produced in 2001, before a U.S.-led bombing campaign smashed the Taliban.
Although production was still below levels reached in 1999, the report warned that a return to widespread poppy production in Afghanistan was a strong possibility. The blossoming opium industry is also causing concern within Afghanistan, where the government is taking tentative steps to stamp out poppy growing, but many farmers say they have not been compensated for giving up the crop. The governor in one of Afghanistan's drug producing provinces said on Monday that money was needed to compensate farmers:
"When the government orders a total ban, we want to implement it," said the governor of Nangarhar province, Haji Deen Mohammad.
"But we need aid and job creation projects to keep the farmers satisfied, to stop it peacefully rather than using force," he said.
In June, British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged the complete elimination of opium poppies from Afghanistan within 10 years.
The DrugScope report will be presented to an international drug trafficking conference in Paris on Thursday.
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