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Afghanistan: UN agency seeks $25.5 million to fund alternatives to poppy crops

Afghanistan: UN agency seeks $25.5 million to fund alternatives to poppy crops

To end opium production in Afghanistan, the country's widespread poverty and unemployment must be tackled, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said today, appealing for $25.5 million to fund alternative crop cultivation schemes there.

The five-year initiative will finance agricultural development projects in four main poppy producing provinces - Badakhshan, Helmand, Kandahar and Nangarhar - targeting some 1.5 million people.

"Rural poverty and the lack of income are the main reasons why farmers produce opium," said Angelika Schückler of the FAO Agricultural Management, Marketing and Finance Service. “The project aims to rehabilitate agricultural infrastructure in some of the main poppy producing areas and to boost horticulture, livestock and cash crop production in order to create alternative livelihoods for small farmers, landless workers and vulnerable groups."

While cutting the production of poppy, the project will bring environmental and economic benefits to war-ravaged Afghanistan by restoring tree nurseries, building small irrigation dams and improving animal health services.

Afghanistan is the world's largest opium producer, providing almost three-quarters of global opium production. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), poppy production amounted to 3,600 tonnes last year. Around 1.7 million Afghans are directly involved in the process.

With an average price for raw opium now at $283 per kilogrammes, poppy cultivation is much more profitable for farmers than the production of other commodities. In 2003, poppy cultivation generated a gross income of around $1 billion - around $3,900 per opium-growing family.

"Opium production offers immediate and stable incomes in an environment which is often very hostile to agricultural production," Ms. Schückler said. “Only if poppy production is seriously cut back through strong law enforcement and if the overall production environment improves significantly will farmers finally switch to alternative crops.”