Opium poppy cultivation in the Golden Triangle of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, the world’s second largest source of the raw material for heroin after Afghanistan, fell 29 per cent in 2006, bringing the total decline in the region since 1998 to 85 per cent, the United Nations anti-narcotics agency reported on Monday.
“This is a remarkable success in the reduction of illicit crops which is so far unmatched anywhere in the world,” UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said. “It represents an important step towards the goal of eliminating the cultivation of illicit crops worldwide.”
The region’s share of world opium poppy cultivation has fallen from 66 per cent in 1998 to only 12 per cent in 2006, and Laos and Thailand are almost opium-free. “If the current trend continues, there will soon be only one opium-producing country left in the world – Afghanistan,” Mr. Costa added, calling for funding to make other crops a viable alternative for poor farmers.
Earlier this month UNODC reported a dramatic surge in Afghan opium production this year, 92 per cent of the world’s supply, and warned the world’s health authorities to prepare for a significant increase in deaths from heroin overdoses, since the abundant supply was likely to result in dramatic increases in the purity of street heroin.
UNODC’s 2006 Opium Poppy Cultivation in the Golden Triangle survey showed that cultivation in the three countries fell to 24,160 hectares this year from 34,720 in 2005 and compared with 157,900 hectares in 1998. The Golden Triangle now produces only about five per cent of the world’s opium, down from 33 per cent in 1998.
“It is essential to ensure that the remarkable progress that has been made in this region is maintained,” Mr. Costa said. “That will require greater investment in poor and often remote rural communities that have been affected by the elimination of opium poppy crops. Farmers need to feel confident that alternative livelihoods are sustainable. Otherwise, the temptation to return to opium poppy farming will be too great.”
Laos and Thailand saw increases in opium cultivation in 2006 but these were from a very low base. The two countries have both reached such low levels of cultivation that they are no longer exporters of opium. In Myanmar, cultivation fell 34 per cent to 21,500 hectares, a dramatic 83 per cent drop on the 130,300 hectares of 1998, but the country remains the world’s second largest opium poppy grower after Afghanistan.
Mr. Costa said poor farmers in the region who were forced to stop growing opium were vulnerable to varying degrees of humanitarian crises. “The need to protect the rights of these populations to live in security, freedom and dignity must be an integral part of the enforcement of drug control and opium bans,” he added.