Opium production in Afghanistan has dropped for the first time since 2001, according to the United Nations. Antonio Maria Costa, director of the U-N Office on Drugs and Crime, reports opium poppy acreage under cultivation in Afghanistan fell by some twenty-one percent last year. "Obviously, we're very pleased," he said, "because it's the result of restraint by farmers – an active decision which is important."
Mr. Costa also said Afghanistan needs to do more to stop opium production. He called on the Afghan government to deal with traffickers and corrupt officials:
"The United Nations would like to invite the government to take very tough measures against those governors, or those officials, whether civilians, military, police, who are involved in cultivation or refining or trafficking. We wish the government persevered in making its own legal instruments available to the international community, so that traffickers can be extradited."
Success in fighting the drug trade and reducing poppy production requires a long term commitment on the part of the Afghan government and international donors. The Afghan government is distributing forty-thousand tons of fertilizers and fourteen-thousand tons of wheat and potato seeds to help farmers shift from opium poppy to food crops. The U.S. and Britain are financing the initiative.
In Baghlan province, Afghan agriculture officials and the managers of a sugar factory are trying to persuade farmers in the area to plant sugar beets instead of poppy. Taza Mir, a local farmer, remembers a time when sugar beet was the area's major crop. "If the factory had not been damaged during the war years and we could still have sold our sugar beet, we would never have planted our lands with poppy," he said. Mr. Mir said he is willing to plant sugar beet. "Even though we'll earn less than with poppies," he said, "it will be much better because we can cultivate and sell it freely, without any threats or restrictions."
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann says the drop in opium production reflects the efforts being made by Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai and some provincial governors. Public awareness and better law enforcement are important elements in poppy reduction, he said. "And obviously, eradication has a role and an important role both as a threat in getting people not to cultivate and the reality [of reducing the poppy under cultivation]."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.