Afghanistan's opium production fell 10 percent last year and prices are at their lowest in a decade, meaning "the bottom is starting to fall out" of the world's largest opium market, the UN said yesterday.
A key finding of the 2009 Afghan Opium Survey, released yesterday, was that cultivation in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold where US and British troops have launched major operations this summer, dropped by about a third from 2007 to 2008. Helmand produces almost 70 percent of Afghanistan's opium.
"At a time of pessimism about the situation in Afghanistan, these results are a welcome piece of good news and demonstrate that progress is possible," Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN's office on drugs and crime, said in a statement.
Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world's supply of opium, the raw ingredient used to make heroin, and the multibillion-dollar crop has helped finance insurgents and criminal groups, fueled official corruption and weakened the country's central government.
'Marriage of convenience'
The UN said that a "marriage of convenience" between insurgents and criminal groups is spawning narco-cartels in Afghanistan.