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Afghan poppy crop hit by fungus

Afghan poppy crop hit by fungus
A heroin addict leaves after smoking in the Old City in downtown Herat, Afghanistan on August 13, 2009. The poppy fields of Afghanistan are the source of most of the world's heroin supply and the source of the Taliban's power and money. The Afghan presidential election is on August 20. UPI/Mohammad Kheirkhah. | License Photo

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 13 (UPI) -- A serious fungal disease has hit Afghanistan's poppy crop, which could reduce this year's opium output by a quarter from last year, a U.N. official said.

The infection has affected half of the Afghan poppy crop, Antonio Maria Costa, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, told the BBC. Afghanistan accounts for 92 percent of the world's opium.

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Costa said opium prices have shot up by about 50 percent in the region which could affect the revenues of insurgent groups like the Taliban that have large stockpiles of the narcotic, the report said.

The fungus attacks the root of the plant and causes the opium capsule to wither, Costa said.

The main poppy-producing regions in Afghanistan are the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, which are also the worst-hit by the insurgency.

Costa denied NATO troops had any role in the outbreak of the fungus as some Afghan farmers have charged, the report said.

"Opium plants have been affected in Afghanistan on a periodic basis," he said, adding the fungal outbreak is an opportunity for experts to try to persuade the farmers to move away from poppy cultivation.

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