Karenni Farmers Have Few Options Besides Opium: Civil Society Groups

By Nang Seng Nom 10 January 2014

More farmers continue turning to opium poppy cultivation in Karenni State due to difficulties in growing other crops, local civil society groups say, weeks after a UN agency reported that poverty was fueling drug production in the Southeast Asian nation.

Insufficient access to water for agriculture, poor transportation and a shortage of markets for other crops have encouraged farmers in the eastern Burma state to continue growing opium poppy, according to the Union of Karenni State Youth (UKSY).

“Opium does not need much water, and can even survive with mist,” said Kyaw Tin Aung, a UKSY central committee member. “We cannot grow other crops in our area. People here also make more money from opium. That’s why they have focused on it.”

He said the government’s plan to eradicate opium production had been unsuccessful in Karenni State, although the plan has been extended for another five years until 2019.

“More opium plantations are found in Pekon Township,” said Mu An Jalar, joint secretary of Kayan Women’s Organization (KYWO). “A police station is based there but hasn’t taken any effective action.”

One viss of opium, or about 1.6 kilograms, is reportedly worth about 700,000 kyats (US$ 700) in Burma.

Opium eradication efforts have been under way since 2007 in major growing areas such as the Karenni State capital Loikaw, as well as Demoso and Hpruso townships, and some 215 acres of opium fields have been destroyed since 2012.

Burma is the world’s second-biggest grower of opium, after Afghanistan.

Last month, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimated in its annual Southeast Asia Opium Survey that Burma would produce 870 metric tons of opium in 2013, a 26 percent rise over 2012 production. It said official efforts to eradicate opium production were falling flat because poor farmers did not have alternative ways to make a living.