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Saturday, 20 April, 2002, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Afghanistan destroys opium tonnes
Afghan farmer weeds a poppy field
Poppy farming has grown since the Taleban's fall
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By Kate Clark
BBC correspondent in Kabul
line
The Afghan interim government says it has already destroyed about 94 tonnes of opium which would have been worth about $600m to drug dealers if it had been sold in Europe as heroin.


We have a moral compact with the world that we will eliminate the poppy

Ashraf Ghani, chief economic adviser
Afghan farmers had blocked roads and launched angry protests but the government's chief economic adviser says their poppy eradication programme is going peacefully.

Poppy cultivation was banned under the Taleban, but many farmers in the south and east took advantage of their demise to sow the crop last autumn.

The government here is determined that Afghanistan should not return to its old reputation as the chief supplier of opium to the world.

It is destroying this year's poppy crop and paying farmers compensation, covering their expenditure plus what they would have earned had they sown wheat.

Commitment

In the last two years of Taleban rule, poppy cultivation was virtually eradicated and global stockpiles of opium have been run down.

The price of opium is now rising, an indication that poppy eradication in Afghanistan could cause major problems for global heroin dealers this year.

heroin seizure
Drug seizures indicate the size of the problem

The government's senior Economic Adviser, Ashraf Ghani, said they were in major discussions with the European Union and Britain in particular on aid.

He said, more importantly, they were also talking about improving trade conditions for Afghan farmers.

"We have a moral compact (sic) with the world that we will eliminate the poppy, " he said.

"Assistance is very welcome and it has been forthcoming, but Chairman Karzai had made it clear in New York and in Washington and in London that we will embark on this, regardless.

"So we are not bargaining. We are not making our efforts conditional on the amount of aid that would flow. But having said that, we are in a major discussion with European Union regarding both aid and trade."

Trade is just as important as aid, Mr Ghani said.

"We would like to export to Europe. We don't have any structural policy obstacles to exporting to Europe.

"Now, the key is to organise entrepreneurs to meet the standards, the health standards certificate of origins and others, and I'm very gratified that the European Union has been very forthcoming on this.

"Prime Minister Blair in particular has taken a personal interest in this and has really been providing us with assistance," he said.

Limited compensation

Mr Ghani said they were discussing the export of crops like cumin and saffron to the EU, and looking at labour intensive development schemes and alternative sources of rural credit.

US marines in Afghanistan
Combat makes fighting drugs more difficult

At the moment, opium dealers lend money at rates of interest as high as 500% if the money is not repaid.

Mr Ghani said the courts now recognise this practice as un-Islamic.

The Afghan poppy eradication programme started in the south, where the poppies flower first, and will move to the east and finally the north, where farmers living under Northern Alliance rule are facing a ban for the first time.

Mr Ghani stressed that the compensation would be for this year only, and the government also wanted to help farmers elsewhere who have not grown opium and who are often much poorer.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kate Clark
"The price of opium is now rising"
See also:

11 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghan poppy destruction begins
08 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghan farmers die in poppy protest
05 Apr 02 | Business
Afghans step up battle against opium
27 Feb 02 | South Asia
Afghan opium production grows
09 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghanistan's opium industry
21 Feb 02 | South Asia
UN concern over Afghan drug revival
04 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: The heroin trail
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