File - An Afghan works in a poppy field collecting green bulbs swollen with raw opium, in the Khogyani district of Jalalabad.
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Pink-and-white poppy blooms stretch toward the horizon in this field in southern Afghanistan as laborers slice open the green bulbs swollen with raw opium, the main ingredient in heroin.This year's bumper crop, after the U.S. has spent $7.5 billion trying to eradicate opium in Afghanistan, represents one of the most tangible and visible failures as the American-led military force prepares to withdraw by the end of this year.Last year, 209,000 hectares of poppy were planted across Afghanistan, up 36 percent over the year before and producing an estimated 6,062 tons of opium, according to the U.N. drug agency.The U.N. estimates that some 200,000 families in Afghanistan are involved in opium production already and that the country has some 1 million addicts.As a share of Afghanistan's economy, opium looms large: The U.N. estimates the potential gross value of Afghan opiates last year was around $3 billion – equal to 15 percent of the country's gross domestic product.In 2009, opium cultivation in Helmand – by far Afghanistan's largest producer – dropped by 33 percent to about 70,000 hectares.
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