Burma: Opium Cultivation Rises Due To Political Volatility – OpEd


By Zin Linn

UNODC Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific launched the report “South-East Asia Opium Survey 2011 – Lao PDR, Myanmar” – today at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok.

The presentation of the Report was highlighted by Mr. Gary Lewis, Regional Representative, UNODC Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific. Suggestion for drug eradication in Myanmar (Burma) was put forward by Mr. Jason Eligh, Country Manager, UNODC Myanmar and implication for Lao PDR was made by Mr. Leik Boonwaat, Representative/Deputy Regional Representative, UNODC Lao PDR.

In 2011, opium cultivation in Burma’s war torn Kachin and Shan states was estimated at 43,600 ha, representing an increase of 14 per cent compared to 38,100 ha in 2010. The rising of poppy-growing area started slowly in 2007 after 6 years of decline (2001 to 2006), a United Nations report said Thursday.

According the estimation of the report, opium cultivation took place in 34 per cent of the surveyed villages in Shan State, with high concentrations in East Shan State 44 per cent and South Shan State 46 per cent.

The UN Agency agreed the regional increase of opium poppy cultivation to rising prices for the illicit drugs, and a lack of crop-substitution projects in these remote areas, where in Burma’s question there are ongoing ethnic insurrections. Opium prices in Burma this year, as said by the report, have significantly increased. The average farm-gate price of opium was US$ 450/kg in 2011. It was up 48 per cent from US$ 305/kg in 2010.

The report spotlighted that poppy farmers are very vulnerable to loss of income derived from opium, especially those who count on this earnings source for food security. Moreover, opium cultivation is generally linked to a lack of peace and security, which points out the need for political and economic solutions.

According to Shan Drug Watch program (October 201) by Shan Herald Agency for News, poppy cultivation was continuing unchecked in 46 of the 55 Shan townships, mostly in areas under the control of the Burma Army and its militias. However, unfavorable weather conditions caused a massive drop in opium output during the last season. But, there is no evidence of constant effort by the Burmese regime to eradicate opium. On the contrary, opium farmers throughout the state are being taxed by Burma Army units, Shan Drug Watch said.

In Kachin State, northern part of Burma, poppy growing areas were up 27 per cent, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s annual South-East Asia Opium Survey 2011 said.

Laos saw its opium poppy cultivation increase from 3,000 hectares in 2010 to 4,100 hectares, up 37 per cent, according to agency estimates.

The agency’s executive director Yuri Fedotov said that the lack of security, political stability and sustainable development are some of the key drivers behind increased opium production. The high prices for opium in Lao DPR and the Thailand, as well as steep price increase in Burma, are also making production attractive to poppy farmers, Fedotov criticized.

Many analysts say that political reforms, improved security and stronger economic growth are needed to shift poppy farmers away from growing opium and to cut drug addiction.

The making of illicit drugs in Burma has considerable international, regional and national end results. At the international level, the opium and heroin produced in the country are consumed in Asia distributed through China and Thailand as well as the rest of Asia, reaching destinations as far away as Australia, North America and Europe.

At the regional level, drugs are at the root of various problems, including the spread of HIV/AIDS fuelled by injecting drug use, corruption of border officials and the large influence of criminal elements seeking on undermining the rule of law and further instability in the border areas.

Some political analysts pointed out, poppy growing and opium production in Shan State have increased over the past two years due to political volatility in Burma and growing economic despondency caused by cronyism, corruption and unprofessional conduct of the military-backed government.

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