Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Poppy cultivation in Asia growing

The United Nations office on Drugs and Crime says that Asian poppy production for opium is on the increase. In the countries of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand poppy production was next to nothing since 1998, but an increase in opium prices a big decrease in other crops have led to the rebound.

In this story from IRIN, we learn more about rebel groups within Myanmar who have returned to poppy cultivation, and the economic factors behind it.

This reduction has been largely the result of pressure on two of the largest opium producers in Myanmar's Golden Triangle (bordering China, Laos and Thailand) - the Kokang and the Wa.

Both are rebel ethnic groups, with large guerrilla forces, who have ceasefire agreements with the Myanmar government.

The Kokang virtually ceased opium production in 2003 and the Wa in 2005. But in the past two years both poppy cultivation and opium production have begun to grow again.

"The trend is certainly upwards with a significant increase in the land under cultivation in Myanmar," said Leik Boonwaat, UNODC chief in Laos, who has also been stationed in Myanmar.

"Former opium farmers who already live in dire poverty are facing twin levers of increasing opium prices and falling commodity prices that may encourage them to resume poppy growing," he said.

The prices of most commodities grown or produced in Shan Sate in Myanmar, and in Laos, as alternatives to poppy - including maize and rubber - have fallen by more than 50 percent, according to the UN's annual drug report.

Most of the Wa and Kokang alternative crops - tea, rubber and fruit - are sold to traders across the border in China where demand for these products has all but dried up.

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