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Friday, 15 September, 2000, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Drought hits opium output
poppies
Opium poppies: A major source of foreign currency
The United Nations drug control agency says opium production in Afghanistan has fallen by nearly 30% since last year.

But despite the ruling Taleban's anti-drug stance, the agency says Afghanistan remains the world's largest producer of opium.


The Taleban turned out to be quite a difficult partner

Pino Arlacchi, Head of the UN Drugs Control Agency
The executive director of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Pino Arlacchi, said the reduction in output was mainly due to drought in the region.

He the agency had decided to cut its presence in Afghanistan because of a lack of cooperation from the Taleban.

"Given the lack of financial and political support, we are going to reduce our presence in the country," Mr Arlacchi said. "The Taleban turned out to be quite a difficult partner," he added.

Smuggled

In July, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the supreme leader of the Taleban, declared a total ban on opium poppy cultivation throughout Afghanistan.

But the annual UN survey showed that more than 3,000 tonnes of raw opium were produced this year in the country.

Poppy farmer
Opium is an important source of tax revenue for the Taleban
It takes 10 tonnes of opium to produce about one tonne of heroin.

Mr Arlacchi estimated that around half of Afghanistan's heroin is consumed in Pakistan, Iran and other neighbouring countries, while the remainder is smuggled into Europe.

Border controls

The UN drugs control agency said it would now concentrate on stricter border controls with neighbouring countries.

Mr Arlacchi praised Tajikistan, which has seized 800 kilos of heroin in the last six months, as part of a programme aided by his agency and Russian border guards.

He said these drugs seizures were almost five-times more than large European nations managed to seize in a whole year.

Cash crop

In poverty-stricken Afghanistan, opium poppies are the most lucrative crop farmers can grow.

The tax paid by opium farmers is also an important source of revenue for the Taleban. Opium is also one of Afghanistan's few sources of foreign currency.

The Taleban says it wants to eliminate production, but as a poor country subject to sanctions, it needs international support to carry out crop substitution schemes.

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