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Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 12:45 GMT
Golden Triangle fills opium gap
poppy field
Better growing methods have boosted production
A drop in opium production in Afghanistan has doubled prices and prompted growers in the Golden Triangle region of Thailand, Burma and Laos to boost their output, says the Thai army.

Afghanistan Opium
2000: 3,276 tons
2001: 185 tons
International Drug Control Program
Satellite photographs of the area where the borders of the three countries meet showed opium poppy plantations were expanding, said a spokesman.

Investment by local warlords in better cultivation methods was also boosting the production of opium, from which heroin is produced.

Afghanistan overtook Burma to become the world's top opium producer in 1998 and, by 2000, was responsible for more than 70% of global supplies.

Drug traffickers might see an opportunity in the world market because Afghanistan's crop has dropped

Colonel Pairat Thongjatu
But its opium yield dropped drastically last year because of a successful ban on poppy growing by its former Taleban rulers, who have since been ousted by US-led forces.

Burma, which produced 865 tons of opium last year, according to a US/Burmese study, is now the world's biggest opium producer.

The price for raw opium has surged from slightly more than 20,000 baht ($455) for 1.6 kilograms to 40,000 baht ($900) or more since the strikes on Afghanistan.

Thai army spokesman Colonel Pairat Thongjatu said a half-acre (0.2 hectare) plot of opium poppies could generate income of up to 400,000 baht ($9,090) per crop, encouraging many poor farmers to continue to cultivating poppies despite the legal risks.

Cash crops call

Fears continue in the West of a surge in opium cultivation in Afghanistan this year in the wake of the fall of the Taleban.

For many poor farmers in the war-ravaged country, growing opium poppies is the only way to survive - and planting wheat or other cash crops often proves unfeasible.

UN experts say that besides insisting that the Afghan authorities to curb poppy cultivation and trafficking, the international community needs to provide opium farmers with help in switching to legal crops.

See also:

26 Nov 01 | South Asia
US concern at Afghan opium surge
22 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghans planting opium after strikes
04 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: The heroin trail
30 Sep 01 | South Asia
West fears heroin flood
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