The harvest this past May resulted in a staggering 6,060 tonne of opium, 49 percent higher than 2012 and more than the combined output of the rest of the world. Even Afghan provinces with some past successes in combating poppy cultivation saw those trends reversed, according to 2013 annual UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report.

The withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in 2014 is likely to make matters even worse, said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the UNODC regional representative in Kabul. He warned that as international assistance falls off, the Afghan government will become increasingly reliant on illicit sources of income. Uncertainty is also driving up poppy production, as farmers worried about the country's future turn to the tried and true.

The big increase in production began in 2010 when farmers rushed to plant to take advantage of soaring prices, a result of a crop disease the previous year, the US military surge in the South and the announcement of the US and NATO's transition out of Afghanistan, Lemahieu said.

Lemahieu said those who benefit from the drug trade include farmers, insurgents and many within the government. Often, he said, they work together. Khan Bacha, who cultivates a small plot of land in eastern Nangarhar province, a Taliban stronghold, said this week that the insurgents charge farmers a "religious tax" of one kg of opium for every 10 kg produced though the price is "negotiable."

"They say we are going for jihad," Bacha said. "It is the God money we give."

Past attempts by the international community to combat opium cultivation have included introducing alternative crops and paying farmers in some areas not to plant poppies. That backfired when farmers elsewhere started growing poppies in the hopes of getting money if they stopped.

Cultivation also appears to be spreading to new parts of the country, with Afghans planting poppies in some 516,450 acres across 17 provinces in 2013, compared with 380,540 acres in 15 provinces in 2012, according to the report.

(Agencies)

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