Parasite threatens Afghan opium production: UN

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A parasite is threatening one quarter of Afghanistan's poppy crops, which could result in lower supplies and higher prices for opium, the UN office in charge of fighting drugs said Wednesday.

"Twenty-five percent of the opium crop will be likely destroyed by 2010 and might not been able to meet the world demand," said Antonio Maria Costa the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

"Yet the world is not short of opium: there has been an oversupply since 2006," said Costa, who was giving his office's annual report.

Afghanistan produces nearly 90 percent of the world's opium.

The UNODC estimates that there are more than 12,000 tonnes of opium stored in Afghanistan, the equivalent of 2.5 years of global demand.

Opium prices peaked at more than 380 dollars a kilo in 2003, but last year dropped to 48 dollars a kilo. The UNODC expects 2010 prices to double to 89 dollars a kilo, as Afghan opium production has dropped 23 percent in the last two years.

"Afghanistan is producing twice as much (opium) as the whole world did 10 years ago," said Victor Ivanov, Director of Russia's Federal Service for the Control of Narcotics.

Russia is the world's largest consumer of heroin.

"We are cautiously optimistic regarding the tendencies of the global market and acreage," said Ivanov, speaking through a translator.

"We should try to find out the reason for this phenomenon where opium production is followed by emergence of hashish industry, which is huge. It's quite clear that production of hashish in conjunction with production of heroin has every chance to capture all the world market," the Russian official said.

Afghanistan produces some 7,000 tonnes of opium a year and 3,000 tonnes of cannabis. Officials estimate that 657 tonnes of heroin are produced around the world, of which 430 tonnes reach the market and the rest is stored.