The United Nations on Monday predicted a strong increase in poppy cultivation in north and northeastern parts of Afghanistan where insurgents have stepped up attacks after being heavily pressured in their southern strongholds by Afghan and coalition forces.
Overall, however, a report released by the U.N. said it expected poppy cultivation across Afghanistan to drop slightly this year because less of the crop, used to make opium, is being planted in the south.
Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the top official for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan, said soaring opium prices is the driving force behind the planting of poppy this year. According to the report, the price of dry fresh opium increased by 306 percent and 251 percent, respectively, between February 2010 and February of this year.
"Those prices are really exceptional," Lemahieu said. "This is not a normal market price. It is an inflationary price due to the opium disease last year, combined, as well, by the military surge and the instability and insecurity."
The report predicted a strong rise in the amount of poppy planted in Badakhshan and Baghlan provinces in the north and Kapisa province in the northeast. Sharp increases in cultivation also are predicted in Ghor province in west-central Afghanistan and Herat and Faryab provinces in the west, the report said.