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Page last updated at 11:11 GMT, Friday, 5 June 2009 12:11 UK

Poppy link to Afghan bumper crop

Poster encouraging Afghans to grow wheat rather than opium
The government is urging farmers to grow wheat rather than opium

The Afghan government has said that the bumper wheat harvest expected this year can be attributed in part to its successful poppy eradication programme.

Officials say the success of the scheme - especially in Nangarhar province - has helped the country to reap its biggest wheat harvest in 30 years.

However officials say the main reason for the bumper harvest is because of increased snow and rainfall.

They say that the country is now almost self-sufficient in wheat.

Improved yields

An official in the ministry of counter-narcotics told the BBC that increased demand for wheat meant that it was selling for a higher price, in contrast to the the relatively low prices currently being paid for opium.

"Most farmers were not prepared to risk cultivating poppies because they were scared that the government would destroy them," he said.

Agriculture Minister Asif Rahimi said that he was expecting the best wheat harvest for 32 years.

Opium poppies in Afghanistan
The government says that it is determined to eradicate poppy crops

Last year Afghanistan had to import over two million tonnes of wheat to feed it people.

This year's projected yield means the country would only have to import 200,000 tonnes of wheat.

The minister also predicted improved yields of rice and corn.

The main reason for the bumper harvest is increased rainfall, but other factors include more farmland devoted to wheat after last year's high prices for the crop. Improved provision of seeds and fertilisers to farmers has also been cited as a factor.

The BBC's Bilal Sarwary in Kabul says that the government's poppy eradication programme has contributed to better harvests, even if its writ does not extend to areas of the country where the Taliban are active - such as Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Our correspondent says the construction of better roads has also helped farmers to sell their produce more speedily.

Opium 'remains profitable'

However the opium trade remains a highly profitable enterprise for many farmers and is deeply interwoven with the economic, political and social fabric of the country.

Afghan and international authorities are engaged in a campaign to reverse an unprecedented upsurge of opium poppy cultivation and heroin production, but many commentators say that their efforts so far have been inadequate.

The war in Afghanistan over the last three decades has forced many farmers into exile, with land and irrigation systems destroyed in battle or ruined by neglect.

Agriculture is a development priority for foreign aid agencies working in the country, with about 80% of Afghans estimated to live in rural areas.



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