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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
MP calls for licensing of opium
Poppy crop in Afghanistan
Most of the world's opium comes from Afghanistan
Afghanistan's huge opium trade should be licensed as a way to undermine the Taleban, a Tory MP has suggested.

Tobias Ellwood said UN licensing of poppy crops would also alleviate the world shortage of morphine and codeine.

Destroying the crops ruins livelihoods and "allows the Taleban to continually recruit disenfranchised Afghans," the Bournemouth East MP said.

The UN estimates that 92% of the world's opium comes from Afghanistan, with just under 50% grown in Helmand.

Mr Ellwood said: "Until we recognise that crop eradication destroys livelihoods and allows the Taleban to continually recruit disenfranchised Afghans, we will not be able to sustain the peace long enough for reconstruction programmes to have any impact on communities."

Turkish example

Despite a massive programme to destroy poppies and offer help to farmers to grow alternative crops, under way for two years, the UN predicted Afghanistan's cultivation would soar by 59% this year to 92% of worldwide production.

Mr Ellwood gave the example of licensing of opium in Turkey as a model to follow.

"In 1974 Turkey sought UN assistance to establish licensed cultivation of opium.

"Today 600,000 people earn their living in related trade and Turkey earns $60 million (32m) a year from exported opium.

"If Turkey can successfully make the transition from a culture of widespread unregulated poppy cultivation to a licensed, controlled system of poppy cultivation, a similar proposal should be tested in Afghanistan."

The UN says the $2.7bn (1.44bn) drugs trade accounts for about a third of Afghanistan's economy.

Mr Ellwood is shortly to visit the country, where he will meet President Hamid Karzai and government officials, British troops and international development organisations.

The MP said he was concerned about British troops, who are mainly based in Helmand, having enough military equipment, and was keen to see if Tony Blair's promise of supplying whatever they needed was being kept.

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