The United States is to shift hundreds of millions of dollars in funding away from efforts to destroy opium poppies in Afghanistan towards policies encouraging farmers to grow other crops, G8 officials said on Saturday.
US special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke "announced that the US will reduce its funding for the eradication of poppy cultivation, but at the same time will be allocating several hundreds of millions of dollars in support of legal crops," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.
Frattini was speaking after talks between the foreign ministers of the Group of Eight leading industrialised economies (G8) and their counterparts from Afghanistan, Pakistan and regional powers. Italy currently holds the G8's rotating presidency.
The US move "would not involve the loss of livelihood for farmers who could then be exploited by the Taliban," Frattini said.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghan opium kills 100,000 people a year in Europe and Asia. Afghanistan provides over 90 per cent of the world's illegal opium, some 7,000 tonnes per year.
To fight that trade, G8 foreign ministers meeting in the Italian port of Trieste called for wide-ranging measures to cut down on opium farming by giving Afghan farmers a chance to grow legal crops.
In particular, the body would like to see a system for training farmers and crop scientists in Afghanistan, so that they can work out which crops would grow best in what areas, and then teach local farmers to grow them, Frattini said.
Frattini also called on the European Union to begin work on a free-trade agreement with Afghanistan, in order to give Afghans a further legal means of earning money.