Poppy cultivation has doubled in Southeast Asia since 2006, according to a report released by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crimes (UNODC) in Bangkok yesterday.
Burma accounts for most of the opium traded and over the past five years, cultivation in this country has risen remorselessly. The regional cultivation figure for 2011 is 16 per cent higher than in the preceding year, the report says.
“The high prices for opium in Lao and Thailand, as well as steep price increases in Myanmar [Burma], are making production attractive to farmers,” Yury Fedotov, UNODC executive director, said. He noted the lack of alternative livelihoods for poor communities and the link between poppy cultivation and lack of peace and security in the growing areas in Burma. With an estimated 35 per cent of households struggling to feed themselves, the scarcity of food also drives cash-strapped farmers to grow poppy.
Speaking at the launch in Bangkok, UNODC regional representative Gary Lewis said: “The significant increase in opium poppy cultivation coupled with increases in trafficking in methamphetamines and other illicit drugs reflect a growing human security threat to the region.
“The opium numbers are heading in the wrong direction. The international community has taken its eye off the ball on illicit drug production and trafficking in Southeast Asia,” he added. “This situation means we must be more pro-active on all fronts to prevent our region from again becoming a major drugs hub.”