KABUL, Afghanistan, May 27 (UPI) -- The withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan will likely result in a new surge in the production of opium poppies, counter-narcotics experts predicted.
The United States has been leading a long battle to snuff out the Afghan opium industry, though with the Americans shipping out by 2014 and Afghanistan's economy still weak, many impoverished farmers will likely turn to opium as a cash crop.
"Some money is available through the licit economy, but less than in the past as Western contracts dry up, and so the importance of the illicit, informal economy will increase," Jean-Luc Lemahieu, director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan, told The New York Times. "The prognosis post-2014 is not a positive one."
Some Afghan farmers said they indeed had little choice but to turn to the profitable poppy. "I don't have any cash now to start another business, and if I grow any other crops, I cannot make a profit," Mohammed Amin, a poppy grower in Oruzgan province, said.
The Times said the current poppy crop in southern Afghanistan is expected to be lower this year due to bad weather and blight. But the consequence will likely be that poppies from other parts of the country will fetch a much higher price for the struggling farmers.
"The poppy is always good, you can sell it at any time," another grower told the Times. "It is like gold, you can sell it whenever and get cash."
Afghanistan has pledged to continue its efforts to eradicate poppy crops and steer farmers into legitimate crops. Still, officials concede the economics of the situation and the likelihood of corruption among local police make the task difficult.
"When we plan an operation, we have to have approval of the local police chief or his deputy or the zone police chief, and if one of those people is corrupt or linked to a big trafficker, it leaks," said the deputy interior minister for counter-narcotics, Lt. Gen. Baaz Mohammed Ahmadi.