KABUL, Afghanistan – Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan hit a record high this year, rising by seven percent over the 2013 figure and accounting for 90 percent of the world's heroin supply, officials and the United Nations said on Wednesday.
The U.N.'s Office on Drugs and Crime said in a report that the increased cultivation could produce 7,054 U.S. tons of opium, or 17 percent more than in 2013.
Afghanistan's Minister for Counter-Narcotics Din Mohammad Mubariz Rashidi urged countries around the world to give fresh impetus to controlling the drug's production and trade.
"The international community must fight opium drugs and poppy cultivation in Afghanistan as seriously as they fight terrorism," he said.
The area used for poppy cultivation grew to 553,500 acres, 89 percent of it in nine provinces with a significant Taliban presence, the U.N. report said. The Taliban, which have been waging war against the Afghan government since 2001, are heavily involved in poppy cultivation and opium distribution.
The report said that the wholesale price of opium was falling because of increased supply, but the value of the crop was equivalent to 4 percent of the country's GDP, which is $22 billion.
Andrey Avetisyan, the UNODC's regional representative, said that with the end of the U.S. and NATO combat mission in December, the production of opium had to be tackled if Afghanistan was to develop its post-war economy.
"Without tackling the problem of drugs seriously, no serious economic achievement is possible to develop Afghanistan," he told reporters. "To help Afghanistan with economic development, we all together have to finally seriously do something with the threat of narcotics."
Billions of dollars have been spent on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan in the past decade, including programs encouraging farmers to switch to other cash crops like wheat, fruit and saffron.
The support farmers receive from the Taliban, like fertilizer and cash advances, are strong incentives for poor farmers to stick with poppy rather than wait years for a return on lower-yield produce with uncertain markets and inadequate means of storage and transport.