Opium in Shan State Linked to Fighting and Insecurity, says UN

By The Irrawaddy 6 March 2017

RANGOON — Conflict and a lack of security are a major reason for the decision of one in 10 farming households in Shan State to cultivate opium poppy, according to a UN report.

Poor infrastructure in the region and a lack of access to markets were other causes for growing poppy cited by village leaders and others in the report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Almost 600 villages in 39 opium poppy growing townships were surveyed in 2016 for the report, which was presented at an event on March 3 at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC).

Although the number of households growing poppy had decreased from the previous year, the amount of land cultivated for the crop had risen, according to the UN’s data.

In surveyed areas that were under government control, 76 percent of villages grew poppy, the report found. In areas not under government control, the figure was higher, at 88 percent.

Many households in the conflict-torn region depended on poppy for food and basic essentials.

The connection between opium growing and insecurity was found in other parts of the world such as Afghanistan and Columbia where illicit crops are cultivated on a large scale in a context of conflict, the UNODC said.

This had implications for efforts to address the problem and for Burma’s peace process, according to a spokesman.

“Depending on the context…strategies and programs to help households and communities move away from the opium economy may also need to address some causes and consequences of conflict,” said Mr. Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The data showed that villages associated with poppy production had lower levels of development and safety than other villages.

Conditions were also different in different parts of the state. In the southern part of the state, farmers had better access to markets and more alternatives. Lower basic living standards, food insecurity, and safety issues were more acute in the east and the north.

“The diversity of conditions and factors associated with poverty and opium cultivation need to be acknowledged and taken into account when designing and implementing alternative development interventions,” said the report.

The issue of land title was also significant as farmers that own land were found to be less involved in opium poppy cultivation, said the report, which is titled Evidence for Enhancing Resilience to Opium Poppy Cultivation in Shan State—Implications for Alternative Development, Peace and Stability.

Police Brig-Gen Kyaw Win, Joint Secretary of the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC), said, “opium poppy cultivation often happens in villages that are isolated and that cannot get other products to market. We need to expand our work with development partners like UNODC to scale-up sustainable alternative development programs to reach more communities,” according to a UNODC press release.