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Burma opium poppy production rises again

Despite stepped-up government eradication efforts, the amount of land used to grow opium poppies in Burma increased 17 percent during 2011, the sixth consecutive annual increase, according to a U.N. report released Wednesday.
Burma, also known as Myanmar, is the second-largest opium source in the world after Afghanistan. Growers in Burma, responsible for about 10 percent of the world's heroin supply, tend to work smaller fields in remote border highlands areas.
Land devoted to opium poppy production in neighboring Laos, meanwhile, grew 66 percent, albeit from a far smaller base, while in Thailand it declined by 4 percent, according to the report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. The area where the three countries meet, called the Golden Triangle, has for decades been a notorious region for drug production and smuggling.
"The opium numbers continue to head in the wrong direction," Gary Lewis, the U.N. office's regional representative, said in a statement from Bangkok. "Unless the farmers have a feasible and legitimate alternative to give them food security and reduce their debt, they will continue to plant poppy."

Mostly heroin

Most of Burma's production is made into heroin, which finds its way into China, Thailand and India. The production is closely linked to long-standing conflicts between the government and ethnic minorities, including the Shan, who have the largest area under cultivation, and the Kachin, who are increasing their production the fastest. These groups often have used the proceeds from the opium trade to fund their insurgency movements.
Although the Burmese government has signed a series of cease-fire agreements in recent months, the public is not yet convinced that they will hold nor that it's necessarily in their interest to find alternatives to opium. For poor farmers, opium poppies can bring prices up to 19 times higher than rice.
"We need some stability so we can present alternatives," said an official in Burma working on the drug issue. "Crop substitution is one of many approaches. But you can't just exchange poppy for corn."
Ideally, he added, an integrated approach must include a stable source of food for desperately poor farmers along with better education, health care, roads and irrigation.
From September to May, the Burmese government reported embarking on a massive eradication project, cutting down about 58,000 acres of opium poppies, a near fourfold increase over the prior year. But it wasn't enough to counter the production increases.

Eradication not enough

"Eradication doesn't work alone," said Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy, author of the book "Opium: Uncovering the Politics of the Poppy." "As long as you don't address the causes of illegal opium production, production will continue to go up and down. The solution is economic development."
An added problem in the region is methamphetamine, often made in jungle labs. A former methamphetamine user in Rangoon said the drug is so pervasive and lucrative that dealers provide door-to-door delivery. While heroin costs about $1 per injection in Burma's big cities, he said, methamphetamine prices are upward of $12 per hit.
A major driver of regional illicit drug production is strong demand from China, aided by porous borders with Burma and Laos. China accounts for over 70 percent of all heroin consumption in East Asia and the Pacific, the United Nations said.

Posted by BCJP on Thursday, November 01, 2012. Filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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