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AM - Tuesday, 30 August , 2005 08:20:00 Reporter: Geoff Thompson
TONY EASTLEY: As Afghans prepare to go the polls next month to elect their first national parliament, there are hopes that the new government will be able to steer Afghanistan away from continuing as one of the world's main drug suppliers.
There are some optimistic signs - for the first time since the fall of the Taliban the amount of land being cultivated for opium production has actually fallen.
South Asia Correspondent Geoff Thompson reports.
(Sound of glass breaking, laughing)
GEOFF THOMPSON: A blast and a laugh, as officials throw alcohol on a mound of seized drugs in Afghanistan. What's not so funny is the amount that never gets seized - thousands of tonnes of opium and heroin make it across Afghanistan's borders every year, making it the world's biggest supplier of opium products. A whopping 90 per cent of heroin on the streets of Europe comes from Afghanistan.
But at last there is evidence that efforts to persuade Afghan farmers to grow something else are paying off. In the last year there has been 21 per cent decrease in the amount of Afghan land used to produce opium.
In a land where opium production has increased sharply and steadily since the fall of the Taliban almost four years ago, that's good news, says the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, speaking to the BBC in Kabul.
ANTONIO MARIA COSTA: We are announcing a significant decline in the amount of cultivation in Afghanistan in 2005. One field out of five cultivated last year was not cultivated this year, a decline of 21 per cent, bringing down the hectares from 131,000 last year, 2004 to 104,000 hectares. A major accomplishment I would say.
GEOFF THOMPSON: In fact yes, but in effect, not really. While the amount of land under opium cultivation has been significantly cut, the amount of opium produced has shrunk by only 2.4 per cent.
The past year was a bumper season for all Afghan farmers - lots of rain and sunshine and very little pestilence or disease.
Antonio Maria Costa in Kabul.
ANTONIO MARIA COSTA: Weather conditions were very favourable to good agricultural harvest in general, not only opium. Heavy rainfalls, snow hauls, no infestation other than (inaudible) against the opium plant, resulted in a very significant increase in the productivity, in the yield, per hectare.
GEOFF THOMPSON: And so Afghanistan remains the world's biggest opium supplier - responsible for some 87 per cent of all trade, and it's increasingly pure, leading to a spike in the number of people dying of heroin overdoses.