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Afghan Opium Farming Grows, Disease Cuts Output

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The United Nations says more land in Afghanistan is being used to grow poppies for opium, but that production of the crop has fallen this year because of plant diseases and bad weather.

A report Tuesday from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said opium output has dropped by 36 percent compared to 2011. That is despite an 18-percent increase in the amount of land covered by the poppy crop.

The report says the government also sharply escalated its efforts to eradicate opium farming, but that high prices for the crop continue to be a strong incentive for people to start or resume growing poppies.

Afghanistan has long been the world's leading supplier of opium. The U.N. says the opium poppy crop is worth 4 percent of the country's gross domestic product, down from 7 percent last year.

Poppy-growing for opium is most prevalent in southern and western Afghanistan, where there is more insecurity and organized crime. Helmand province, in the west, accounts for about half of opium cultivation.

UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov called on the Afghan government and international partners to address illicit cultivation through development and law enforcement.

Afghanistan has increasingly worked to destroy opium poppy crops in recent years, boosting eradication efforts by 65 percent in 2011 and 154 percent in 2012.

The U.N. report says the number of poppy-free provinces did not change from 2011 to 2012, remaining steady at 17 of the country's 34 provinces.

Article by VOA News