Shan State Farmers Say ‘Grow Opium Poppy, Don’t Use It’

Growers use tools to process black tar from the opium plants. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

PEKHON, Shan State—Amid abundant poppy plantations in this southern township of Shan State, local farmers find themselves in a dilemma: Almost every household here grows opium poppy, citing a lack of other options, but they aren’t pleased to be in the business.

“We aren’t happy growing this poppy, because we know that people will die from opium,” a grower from Laei village told The Irrawaddy recently. “But we’re starving, and nobody is helping us. Who cares about us?”

The annual poppy harvest ended last month in Pekhon Township, a Kayan ethnic minority area, and farmers noted a much smaller yield than normal, in part due to heavy rain and wind last year.

The government’s drug eradication campaign has also added to their difficulties, as anti-narcotics officials have tried to destroy poppy fields throughout Burma, the world’s second-largest opium producer.

Though Kayan farmers in Shan State support the goal of eliminating drug use, they say they haven’t been taught how to substitute their poppy fields with other crops.

And despite the anti-drug program, they say local authorities and armed groups in the area continue to promote poppy cultivation, often demanding a portion of their income from harvest yields.

“Every year, we produce hundreds of tons of opium here,” said Saw Lwin, joint secretary of the Kayan New Land Party. “The government’s anti-drug program destroys our harvests, but then the authorities say we shouldn’t worry, encouraging us to keep growing it.”

In addition to paying an annual tax of 20 million to 30 million kyat (US $23,000 to $35, 000) on their crops, farmers say they bribe local authorities to protect their fields from anti-drug officials, but at least one third of their crops were still destroyed last year.

In Pekhon Township, villages such as Kahant, Laei and Latein have tried to ban opium use by expelling residents caught with the drug. They also promote local sayings such as “Grow opium poppy, don’t use it,” and they post anti-drug notices at every village entrance.

But according to Lwi Si Nyein, a former political prisoner and a leader of the Kayan New Generation Youth group, drug use remains common, with overdoses leading to deaths in the township.

“We have a drug rehabilitation center in Pekhon, but the program stopped and we’re not sure why,” he said.

5 Responses to Shan State Farmers Say ‘Grow Opium Poppy, Don’t Use It’

  1. If there is a more evil substance than heroin, I cannot think of what it is. Perhaps there are even more addictive substances (e.g. crack, methamphetamines and alcohol to name some possibilities), but I doubt those substances have the tragic consequences that heroin does.

  2. The mentality they have is so wrong and so low. “We will not use this opium but we will sell to others and let other people use it and let them die, as long as we make money, we don’t care who are dying” mentality is inhumane. Why is the mentality of the people in Burma so low? Where is compassion? Where is love? Where is care? Where is understanding? Being poor materially is not a big deal, we can find materials as much as we want. But when the mentality is record low, it is difficult to refill it.

    • They are starving , that’s why . Would you watch your children die of hunger when there was a way to save them . Arm chair critics make me sick .

    • This reply may be two years late, but your ignorance is timeless. You ask “where is the compassion? where is the love?” I ask you, where is your brain? These people are dirt poor and their children are starving. There’s no welfare, no WIC, no FAFSA or college dreams supplemented by Daddy’s salary. In their world there’s one harsh reality: GROW OPIUM OR STARVE TO DEATH. Educate yourself before you spew nescient nonsense over the internet, you might infect a like-minded someone with your ignorance.

  3. Greetings from Germany

    Thanks to Taipan and Mateo Samora for your comments. There is nothing more to say!

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