WASHINGTON - Identifying 22 major drug transit or illicit drug-producing countries, US President Barack Obama has said Afghanistan remains the world's largest producer of opium.
"Afghanistan remains the world's largest producer of opium poppy and a major source of heroin," Obama said in a presidential determination on Thursday.
Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru and Venezuela also figure in the presidential determination.
Obama said primary trafficking routes from Afghanistan, where poppy cultivation was still mostly confined to southern and western provinces, were through Iran to Turkey and Western Europe, through Pakistan to Africa, Asia, and the Middle East and through Central Asia to Russia.
"Helmand province remains the largest grower of opium in Afghanistan, but the provincial government's innovative Food Zone program, which provides farmers with wheat seed and fertilizer in exchange for a pledge not to grow poppy, coupled with credible law enforcement, has reduced poppy cultivation by a third, to 69,883 hectares in 2009 and even further to 65,043 hectares in 2010," Obama added.
The US-funded Governor-Led Eradication (GLE) program has demonstrated progress in Helmand, with 2,111 hectares eradicated by the end of May 2011. During 2011, a total of 3,827 hectares of GLE were verified in 17 provinces, an increase of more than 45 percent in eradication over the same time last year.
Although the amount of opium poppy cultivated in Pakistan was much less than Afghanistan, the country continued to qualify as a major drug-producing country, with an estimated 1,700 hectares of opium poppy under cultivation, he said.
"Bilateral cooperation continues to support Pakistan's goal of returning to poppy-free status. United States government support focuses especially on upgrading the institutional capacity of Pakistan's law enforcement agencies," he said.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Obama determined that Bolivia, Burma and Venezuela failed demonstrably during the last 12 months to make meaningful efforts to adhere to the obligations they had undertaken under international counternarcotics agreements. (Pajhwok)