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FAO courting Afghans away from opium

Nov. 18, 2013 at 11:33 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said farmers in the north of Afghanistan are turning to licit crops as an alternative to opium cultivation.

FAO said it's been working in the northern provinces of Afghanistan to supply farmers with fertilizer and seeds to use as an alternative to opium since 2008.

"Since the improved seed project was launched in the northeastern provinces, the harvest has increased to about seven metric tons per hectare of land from about just one metric ton with regular seeds," FAO regional director Muhammad Jawad Azami said in a statement.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reported last week opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 36 percent in 2013. UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedetov said the record-level of production was a sobering reminder of Afghanistan's national challenges.

"Counter-narcotics efforts must be an integral part of the security, development and institution-building agenda," he said in a statement.

The FAO says nearly half of Afghanistan's 35 provinces are free of opium farms.

Last year, Afghanistan reportedly accounted for 74 percent of the world's total opium, a heroin precursor.

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