Reports say growing poppy fields can now be seen from many roadways in Shan State.
While authorities have warned that poppies must be grown “at the nape” [out of sight] and “not on the forehead” [within sight], many fields are visible from roads in the Hopan-Hokhieng area, south of the Mongpan-Mongton road, according to a report on the Shan Herald website on Thursday.
“All known producers like Loi Khilek (Mongton Township), Loilai (Mongpan Township), Kungmao and Pangtawi (Langkher townships) and Sanien (Loilem Township) are reported,” said a researcher who doubles as an aid worker on the Thai-Burma border.
The report said, “The pawliangs [financiers] are offering a daily wage of 3,000 kyat (US$ 3) plus three meals a day,” said a businessman from Lashio who often visits Namtu. “But many people say a lot of risks are involved, such as being caught in the crossfire and being forced to serve as porters.”
Areas in Lashio Township, such as Manmark, Mong Kiet and Mong Yaw that had been declared drug-free in 2006 have also “returned to its old ways,” the story said. These areas were once under the protection of the late Khun Sa (1934-2007) and at present are reportedly controlled by Bo Mon, a former Khun Sa lieutenant.
Burma is the world's second-largest opium poppy grower after Afghanistan.
Shan State is also a major source of methamphetamine tablets, according to the UN, which estimates that global seizures of amphetamine-type stimulants nearly tripled between 1998 and 2010, reflecting fast-growing demand.
In July, Mizzima reported that the UN drug agency said it was “encouraged by the recent cease-fire agreements and the fact that the national authorities have expanded the areas in Shan State in which the UN Office of Drug Control (UNODC) is allowed to work.”
Gary Lewis, the UNODC Bangkok representative, said, “Solve the challenges of chronic poverty, decreasing rural food security, and armed conflict – and you can begin to draw farmers away from poppy.”
Alternative livelihood support is needed if growers are to be weaned off this double-edged source of income, he said.
“To be effective we need to give farming communities alternatives which can provide a sustainable basis for them to earn a livelihood,” said Lewis. “Farmers grow opium poppy to buy food, pay off debt and have a cash income to pay school fees and health expenses.”
UNODC and NGOs have been working with Burmese farmers for the past decade, trying to lure them away from poppy cultivation by providing alternative livelihood solutions, along with improved access to roads, waterways, irrigation, and community health services.
Lt-Gen Ko Ko, home minister and chairman of the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control, announced on Oct. 15 that Burma's 15-year master plan to eliminate drugs by 2014 has been extended five years to 2019.