Opium trade funds one-third of the total Afghan economy
ABC News
April 10, 2007

April 10, 2007 — Five years after the fall of the Taliban, opium is a bigger crop than ever in Afghanistan.

In 2001, farmers produced more than 400,000 pounds of opium from poppy seeds. Last year, that number grew to more than 13 million pounds. Of Afghanistan's 35 provinces, only six are poppy-free.

This year's opium harvest will begin later in April.

The opium trade funds one-third of the total Afghan economy and produces 90 percent of the world's heroin supply.

"I don't know if it's 90 percent or what percent," Afghan President Hamid Karzai told "Good Morning America" anchor Diane Sawyer. "Poppy is an embarrassment for us as a nation, but it's a reality. It's like a disease — you have to cure it. As much as we are ashamed of it, it is there. So we have to cure it."

Fixing the problem, Karzai said, won't be easy.

"The process of curing is difficult and time consuming. It will take us time. We are aware," he said. "It will take economic reconstruction of the country. It will take development. It will take stability and peace. It will, most importantly, take the confidence of the Afghan people in a better future. That is the single most important factor."

Big Bucks for Poppy Farmers

While the government is desperate to eradicate the crop, Afghans are just as desperate to feed their families.

Growing poppy seeds for opium is a way for small farmers to make big money — as much as 10 times more than growing wheat and six times more than growing fruit trees. An acre of poppies equals a $4,000 profit.

New approaches to wipe out poppy fields, such as plans to buy out farmers, have failed because the funding just isn't there.

Today's crops are valued at nearly $3 billion. The government said its entire eradication fund was barely $80 million.

A new ABC News poll found that there was less and less popular support for eradicating poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Forty percent of Afghans — up from 26 percent last year — now call growing opium an acceptable way to earn a living, if there are no other options.

There have been some successes. Opium production in the north, where NATO and U.S. troops are active, has decreased, and there's a new law designed to prosecute poppy farmers.

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