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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 February 2008, 03:18 GMT
More opium likely in Afghan south
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Kabul

US soldier inspects poppy fields in Helmand province (2007)
Helmand province is a major centre of Afghan poppy production
The amount of opium poppy cultivated in Afghanistan's volatile southern provinces will increase this year, according to an annual UN assessment.

But the UN adds, the overall harvest will be "similar to or lower than" last year's record-breaking level.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) based its findings on interviews in almost 500 villages.

Nimroz province, next to Helmand, is the greatest concern for 2008, with opium cultivation set to rise sharply.

Record-breaking Helmand will still produce around half the country's opium, but cultivation is not expected to increase this year, the report says.

Kandahar and other southern provinces are also expected to increase their output.

But the eastern province of Nangarhar looks set to show a drop in the number of opium poppies grown - from having been one of the worst offenders last year.

'Not pleased'

More provinces could be declared "poppy free", the UN says, if planned eradication programmes in safer parts of the country are carried out.

Confiscated drugs set ablaze in Herat, Afghanistan
Efforts to choke the drugs trade have so far had little success

A lot depends on the success of the campaigns to eradicate the crops when they emerge in the spring.

The tractors are already out in the warmer, more dangerous south, ploughing up the poppy fields of Helmand.

But large areas of desert have been reclaimed and eradication in insecure areas is difficult and open to corruption.

The familiar connection between insecurity and poppy farming emerges from the figures.

There is also a warning about cannabis cultivation this year, which is also expected to increase.

It looks like another gloomy year for the international community's efforts to fight drugs in Afghanistan, led by the UK.

A British counter-narcotics official said: "We're not pleased by the overall level of cultivation, but it's good to see it stabilise.

"The progress outside the south shows what can be done in conditions where there is security."

Opium cultivation map

Opium farmers in Afghanistan

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