Concerns grow over opium and amphetamine production

With on-going fighting in the north and continued food insecurity nationwide, researchers warn that combating the significant increases in the production and trafficking of opium and amphetamines in Myanmar will be difficult.



The mix of money, drugs and firearms in the context of poverty and conflict is conducive to the widespread production and trafficking of drugs, said Gary Lewis, Southeast Asia representative for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), at the launch of the latest regional assessment.



Since 2006, land used for opium production has steadily increased in Myanmar, the second largest opium poppy grower in the world, after Afghanistan.



In 2010, an estimated 1.2 million people cultivated opium, and crop area increased by 20 percent from 2009 to 38,100 hectares. Correspondingly, Myanmar’s share of global opium production has increased from 5 percent in 2009 to 14 percent, the report showed.



Methamphetamine increase



Alongside the rise in opium production, experts witnessed a three-fold increase in methamphetamine pill seizures in Myanmar and throughout the region in the past year.



Most of the drug production is designed for export to the region and internationally, the report says. However, experts expressed alarm over indications that within Myanmar, the largest producer of amphetamine type stimulants (ATS), its use is on the rise.



“There is now a twin problem of opium production and amphetamine type stimulants trafficking,” Lewis said. “More alternative livelihoods need to be made available to local communities.”



Few options, limited access



With food security worsening, opium cultivation and ATS trafficking have become more tempting as a source of income.



“We need to change the conditions that motivate this behaviour,” Lewis said.



According to the report, 77 percent of the 1.2 million farmers who are growing poppy are doing it to pay for food, while 9 percent, some 100,000 farmers, grow it for personal use.



Among poppy-producing villages in the northeastern Shan province, where 92 percent of the country’s production originates, an estimated 40 percent of the population do not have enough food to last the year, an increase from 28 percent in 2009, the report said.



Four out of every 10 households in this region grow opium poppy and most of the ATS manufacturing plants are also based here.



According to the surveys, some farmers who stopped growing opium last year were drawn back into it this year to pay back loans used to buy food. At this rate, convincing farmers to abandon opium – the most lucrative crop - will be difficult.



Finally, in the context of conflict between the ethnic minority groups and the government, reaching vulnerable areas is difficult. “Access continues to be a problem,” Jason Eligh, Myanmar's acting UNODC representative, said.



“It is clear that production and trafficking of drugs in this context cannot be ignored,” Lewis said. “We are calling for more resources and attention to the human security situation [particularly] in Shan state.”



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