The Senlis Council, a Paris-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), said it is launching a feasibility study into licensed opium production in Afghanistan to counter a global shortage of the painkillers.

"There is a huge shortage of those essential medicines in the world - morphine and codeine - and Afghanistan has certainly the expertise to be one of the producers of morphine and codeine in the face of this huge shortage," Emmanuel Reinert, head of the Senlis Council, told reporters.

Reinert said the shortage of morphine and codeine amounted to roughly 10,000 tonnes of opium equivalent a year, while Afghanistan produces roughly 4000 tonnes a year.

"For the moment, Afghanistan relies heavily on opium poppy cultivation for survival. Our solution would allow farmers to carry on producing opium for the legitimate and useful legal market instead of the illicit trade in heroin," he added.

 

'Narco-state'

 

Afghanistan's Minister of Counter Narcotics, Habib Allah Qaderi, cautiously supported the proposal.


"We will not have any objection provided this idea helps Afghanistan and the international community," Qaderi told the news conference.

Afghanistan's opium cultivation reached a record high in 2004, the United Nations drugs office said last year, warning that the country was at risk of becoming a "narco-state".

"For the moment, Afghanistan relies heavily on opium poppy cultivation for survival. Our solution would allow farmers to carry on producing opium for the legitimate and useful legal market instead of the illicit trade in heroin"

Emmanuel Reinert,
Senlis Council chief

The study's findings will be presented in September. If they suggest the idea should be implemented, the council will launch one or two pilot projects in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government has refused to allow US forces to destroy opium crops by spraying them from the air, which would destroy the livelihoods of farmers in a country where opium is thought to account for 60% of the economy.

Instead, Karzai has asked foreign donors to focus their anti-drugs efforts on helping Afghanistan promote alternative crops and set up law enforcement bodies to catch and prosecute drug warlords.