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News Link • Afghanistan

UN says Afghan opium production increases for 3rd year in a row

•, By Associated Press
 The boom in poppy cultivation is at its most pronounced in the Taliban’s heartland in the south, the report showed, especially in regions where troops of the U.S.-led coalition have been withdrawn or are in the process of departing. The report suggests that whatever international efforts have been made to wean local farmers off the crop, they are having little success.

Increased production has been driven by unusually high opium prices, but more cultivation of Afghanistan’s premier cash crop is also an indication that Afghans are turning to illicit markets and crops as the real economy shrinks ahead of the expected withdrawal of foreign combat troops at the end of 2014.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the raw ingredient in heroin, and last year provided about 75 percent of the global crop — a figure that may jump to 90 percent this year due to increased cultivation.

Crop sales mostly fund local power brokers and criminal gangs in Afghanistan and to a lesser degree the Taliban, Western experts believe. This makes it difficult for the Afghan government to establish control in areas where the economy is driven by black-market opium sales, despite a small but effective counternarcotics force.

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