Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint / The Irrawaddy

An Illicit Business in Full Bloom in Hsi Hseng

Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint The Irrawaddy

HSI HSENG, southern Shan State—Poppies grown by farmers in Hsi Hseng in southern Shan State’s Pa-O Self-administered Zone are now in bloom.

In most poppy fields at this time of year, latex is being extracted from the seed pods. In some fields, however, growers are still fertilizing young poppy plants using the “broadcasting” method.

Poppy cultivation, a traditional practice in Hsi Hseng, is still the main livelihood for hundreds of families in the town.

Locals are well aware that poppy cultivation is illegal, but complain they lack the financial assistance needed to switch to other crops. Poppies take less time to harvest—and fetch higher prices—than other crops.

At harvest time, authorities arrive looking for poppy fields to destroy, so farmers in Hsi Hseng grow their poppies on remote, steep hillsides.

The remote locations of their fields do not spare farmers the need to pay taxes, however. Local growers are forced to make annual payments to local Pa-O militia, the Shan State Restoration Council and local police, according to the Myanmar Opium Farmers Association, a group of farmers who have for generations made their living by growing poppies and are now looking for alternative crops with the help of local and international NGOs.

According to a 2017 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, there are over 40,000 hectares of farmland under poppy cultivation in Myanmar, 40 percent of it in southern Shan State.