New York, NY (BBN) – The cultivation in Afghanistan of opium poppies – the crop used to make heroin and other drugs – has increased by seven per cent this year because of continued insecurity and higher prices, a United Nations-backed survey reveals on Tuesday.

Cultivation reached 131,000 hectares, compared to 123,000 hectares in the previous two years, and the amount of opium produced rose from 3,600 tons last year to 5,800 tons according to the 2011 Afghan Opium Survey released by the Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MCN) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

In contrast, last year’s survey pointed to a drastic decline in production levels due to a disease in the opium plant that caused much of the poppy production to go to waste.

Opium production forms a significant part of the Afghan economy – production alone makes up nine per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). This does not include manufacturing and trafficking profits, which fuel corruption and funding of insurgent groups.

Afghanistan also suffers from one of the highest rates of opium consumption in the world, with a prevalence rate of 2.65 per cent. This has sparked other problems in the country such as an HIV epidemic among the country’s injecting drug users, a UN statement said.

BBN/SSR/AD-12Oct11-1:34 pm (BST)