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    Each poppy-free province to get $1m

    KABUL (PAN): The Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MCN) has allocated one million dollars for each of the 17 provinces that were declared poppy-free this year, an official announced on Saturday.

    The development assistance will go to the provinces, where poppy cultivation has been reduced to zero, Abdul Qayyum Samir, a spokesman for the ministry, told a news conference in Kabul.

    Helmand, the world's largest poppy-producing region, Badghis and Zabul where the cultivation of the outlawed crop has been reduced considerably are among the 17 provinces.

    Funded by the global fraternity, the Good Performance Initiative (GPI) was launched four years ago by the Ministry of Counter Narcotics to reward provinces for eradicating the illicit crop.

    Under the programme, the spokesman said, each poppy-free province was paid a million dollars annually for development schemes by the ministry and in accordance with governors' recommendations.

    Samir said: "The initiative is aimed to help poppy-free provinces and encourage others to eradicate the illegal crop."

    He acknowledged that poppy-cultivation in Afghanistan had gone up by seven percent during the current year, linking the increase to soaring opium prices.

    Minister of Counternarcotics Zarar Ahmad Muqbil said earlier in the month that 123 hectares of land had been cultivated with poppies in 2010, compared to 131 hectares this year.

    He said 95 percent of the crop was cultivated in violence-hit provinces, including Helmand, Nangarhar, Kunar, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Nimroz, Farah and Badghis.

    According to the United Nations on Drugs and Crime, opium production in Afghanistan has risen by 61 percent this year. The increase was tied to rising opium prices.