August 26, 2008— -- Opium drug production and cultivation in Afghanistan, which produced 93 percent of the world's opium supply last year, has decreased, according to a UN report released today. It was only a slight decrease, but a rare bit of good news in the efforts to disrupt Afghanistan's opium culture.
While there was a 6 percent drop in opium production since 2007, there was a more dramatic 19 percent decrease in the cultivation of opium, according to the report, which also found that the Nangarhar province – once Afghanistan's second highest opium producing province – is now opium-free.
Opium starts off as a milky substance that is drained from the seeds of poppy plants before being processed into heroin and sold as an illegal drug.
On a recent visit to Afghanistan, ABC News met with officials from the US Drug Enforcement Administration, which is helping train Afghan security forces to confront drug traffickers.
"As you're able to get the rule of law out to the provinces," said Vincent Balbo, the DEA chief in Kabul. "I think that you're going to continue to see this decrease. Clearly the areas that are most problematic are those that clearly have the least amount of security."
The connection between the security situation and the drug trade is clear. The UN study found that 98 percent of opium is produced in provinces where security is worst, especially in the Taliban-dominated south-west. Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold, cultivates two thirds of all the opium in Afghanistan.
"If Helmand were a country, it would once again be the world's biggest producer of illicit drugs," the report said.
The report points to good local leadership and bad weather as reasons behind the overall decreases, saying that as governors ran campaigns discouraging farmers from planting opium, drought contributed to crop failure.
Mr. Balbo also credits a new focus on fighting a traditional-style drug war.
"The long term solution is absolutely going after the kingpins," he said. "You eliminate those leaders, the managers, the command-and-control people and that absolutely affects everything else."