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Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan reached a record high this year as farmers seek to "insure" themselves ahead of NATO forces' withdrawal next year, the United Nations said Wednesday.
The area under cultivation rose by 36 percent in 2013, the UN drugs agency UNODC said in its annual report, while production of opium, the main ingredient in heroin, jumped almost 50 percent compared with last year.
There are fears that the departure of the bulk of the US-led NATO troops, who currently number around 75,000, by the end of 2014 will throw the war-torn nation into chaos and insecurity.
"Farmers may have driven up cultivation... trying to shore up their assets as insurance against an uncertain future, which could ensue from the withdrawal of international troops next year," UNODC said.
The report said that in 2013 the area under opium poppy cultivation rose to 209,000 hectares from the previous year's total of 154,000 — higher than the previous peak of 193,000 hectares in 2007.
Opium production reached 5,500 tons, up by almost half from 2012 but lower than the 2007 high of 7,400 tonnes as bad weather in southern Afghanistan affected crops.
Worth around $950 million, or 4 per cent of national GDP in 2013, the farm-gate value of opium production increased by almost a third.