Page last updated at 17:12 GMT, Tuesday, 11 November 2008

'Huge' Afghanistan drugs seizure

By Jill McGivering
BBC News, Gereshk, Helmand province

Poppies in Afghanistan
The planting season is just beginning

Officials in southern Afghanistan say they have seized almost 18 tonnes of poppy seed - potentially enough to produce 30 tonnes of heroin.

The seizure in Gereshk in Helmand province has been described as the biggest of its kind to date.

The operation was part of an aggressive counter-narcotics strategy launched by Helmand's new governor, Gulab Mangal.

If cultivated, the seeds would have produced enough opium for heroin with a street value in Europe of $1.5bn.

It was enough seed to plant 7,000 hectares of poppies - by comparison last year law enforcement teams here eradicated less than 3,000 hectares.

This is the first time counter-narcotics police have carried out a search outside the main provincial town, Lashkar Gah.

It is also the first time they have searched for seeds in an attempt to pre-empt the planting season which is just beginning.

Helmand governor Gulab Mangal took office earlier this year.

He is trying to increase public education, describing poppies as a product which is both damaging to local populations and which raises funds for the Taleban.

He has just launched a massive programme to distribute free wheat in Helmand to encourage farmers to switch from poppies.

But some farmers say they have to grow poppies to survive, because other options like wheat simply do not bring enough income.

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