Opium Production Rises in Burma Despite Clampdown
By Jack Phillips On October 31, 2012 @ 8:34 pm In Asia Pacific | No Comments
Burma, the second largest producer of opium in the world after Afghanistan, increased production of the illicit crop for a sixth year in a row, the United Nations’ drug office said Wednesday.
The land used for illegal opium poppy cultivation grew by 17 percent this year in Burma, (also known as Myanmar), from about 106,000 acres to about 126,000 acres. This despite the increased efforts of the Burmese government to eradicate the crop. The government reported that it eradicated close to 57,000 acres this year, three times the amount eradicated in 2011.
“The opium numbers continue to head in the wrong direction,” said Gary Lewis, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) representative for Asia and the Pacific, in the U.N. report. “However, we have seen more progress on responding to the root causes of opium cultivation in the past year than we have in the past decade.”
UNDOC’s manager in Burma Jason Eligh said that eradication is not enough.
“We must remember why farmers grow poppy,” Eligh said. “In most cases it is because they need cash to buy food to feed their families.”
The poppies, used in the production of heroin and other opiates, have increased in value since last year. Although production in the country rose 17 percent, profits rose 28 percent over last year.
The U.N. estimates that 300,000 Burmese households are engaged in cultivating opium.
The U.N. estimates that 300,000 Burmese households are engaged in cultivating opium. Many of these households are in conflict-ridden parts of the nation.
Burma accounts for around a quarter of the world’s opium production, with 90 percent of the country’s crop produced in Shan State. The remaining 10 percent is grown by rebels in Kachin State, said the U.N. Both states have been stricken by conflict, poverty, and war for decades.
Recent clashes between ethnic Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the western part of the country have also highlighted the country’s instability.
As with poppy eradication, the Burmese government has nonetheless made some advances to address these issues.
In recent months, Burma has released scores of political prisoners, allowed opposition parties to take part in elections, and eased restrictions on the media. Such reforms have prompted Western governments, including the United States to lift sanctions on the Southeast Asian country.
“In areas of conflict and instability like Shan and Kachin states with poor access to markets, there are few employment alternatives to poppy. A sustainable long-term solution to poppy can only come through significant investment in peace, the rule of law and alternative development,” Eligh said.
He encouraged the international community to invest in humanitarian efforts in Burma.
Lewis said, “The international community must now ask ‘How can we help?’—and provide resources toward a solution.”
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