KABUL  - Afghanistan plans to destroy 15,000 hectares (37,050 acres) of poppy fields this year in its latest efforts to control the heroin trade that fuels endemic violence and corruption, officials said Sunday.

Poppy crops will be ploughed up by tractor or flattened by teams of men wielding sticks as part of the programme starting in the southern and western provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Farah and Nimroz.

The target is 50 per cent higher than 2012 but already 24 police officers and seven soldiers have died in this year’s eradication campaign, the ministry of counter-narcotics said in a press conference.

Many of those killed have been blown up by mines planted in fields or shot by insurgents keen to protect the lucrative crop, which is grown in some of Afghanistan’s most violent regions.

“Our goal is to destroy 15,000 hectares of poppy fields this year,” ministry spokesman Abdul Qayum Saamer told reporters as the annual poppy harvest begins. “Last year 10,000 hectares were destroyed successfully.”

Saamer said the overall area of poppy cultivation was up slightly on last year and only 10 per cent of the total crop would be destroyed by the programme.

Afghanistan produces about 90 per cent of the world’s opium and in 2012 the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned that opium cultivation in the country had increased by 18 per cent.

“Since the campaign started a month ago, around 3,400 hectares of poppy lands have been already destroyed,” said Hamayun Faizad, a provincial counter-narcotics official.

“So far this year 24 police, 7 army soldiers and 73 insurgents have been killed during the eradication. The enemy are using land mines and even snipers to target our personnel.”

Poppy farmers are taxed by Taliban militants who use the cash to help fund their insurgency against the government and Nato forces, according to the UNODC.

The poppies, which provide huge profits in one of the world’s poorest countries, also play a large part in the corruption that plagues Afghan life at every level from district to national government.