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Friday, September 10, 1999 Published at 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK


World: South Asia

Afghan opium crop 'largest recorded'

The opium harvest has more than doubled

By Owen Bennett-Jones in Islamabad

Afghanistan is now firmly established as the world's leading opium producer.

The UN Drug Control Programme (UNDP) says that this year's opium poppy crop is the largest ever recorded in any country.

The UNDCP says this year's harvest in Afghanistan is thought to be more than double the country's harvest last year.

A UNDCP spokesman, Bernard Frahi, said the area under poppy cultivation increased by 43%.

It is estimated that 1999's production amounted to 4,600 tonnes, compared to 2,100 tonnes last year.

Afghanistan's production levels dwarf those compared to other countries.

The world's second largest opium producer, Burma, produced an estimated 1,200 tonnes in 1999 and the rest of the world combined produced an estimated 300 tonnes.

Mr Frahi said there are many causes for the increase in Afghanistan.

Bad weather meant that last year's crop was much poorer than it might have been.

In addition, he said, despite some positive signals, the Taleban has failed to enforce its 1997 decree which banned poppy cultivation. Indeed, he added, the Taleban gather 10% tax on all crops, including poppy.

The UNDCP does not expect a similar increase next year; in fact, it hopes that lower prices could result in a decrease.

But at the same time, Mr Frahi said that poppies are grown on only 2.6% of Afghanistan's irrigated land, so there clearly is potential for the size of the harvest to increase in the future.



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