Myanmar opium output rises despite eradication effort

Wed Oct 31, 2012 1:36am EDT
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By Paul Carsten

(Reuters) - Opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar has risen for the sixth consecutive year despite a state eradication campaign, a United Nations report said on Wednesday, throwing doubt on government assertions the problem would be over by 2014.

Unprecedented eradication efforts managed to destroy almost 24,000 hectares (59,280 acres) of poppy fields in the 2012 season, running from the autumn 2011 to early summer this year, more than triple the previous year's total.

But the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said land used for cultivation in Myanmar, the world's second top producer of opium after Afghanistan, still increased 17 percent to its highest level in eight years.

Myanmar is forecast to produce 690 tonnes of opium in 2011/12 according to the report, up from 610 tonnes - about 10 percent of the world's opium - the previous year, the UNODC said. Afghanistan produces around 90 percent.

Land in the Burmese part of the Golden Triangle - a lawless region of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos home to vast drug trafficking operations - is scarce and many poor farmers opt to use it for poppies, which earn them 19 times more per hectare than rice, according to the UNODC report.

Four out of every ten households surveyed in poppy-growing villages grew the crop themselves, but other households participated in the cultivation and harvesting, making it vital to the economies of whole communities.

Production of opium is closely linked to ethnic insurgencies inside Myanmar, said Gary Lewis, UNODC regional representative.

"There is no question that there is a strong connection between the conflicts in the country and the most immediate sources of revenue to purchase weapons, and in many instances this is both opium and heroin and methamphetamine pills," Lewis told Reuters.   Continued...

A local villager walks after assisting authorities to destroy a poppy field above the village of Tar-Pu in mountains of Shan State January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj