Laos, Former opium farmers receive support
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Author: Somsack Pongkhao
Newspaper section: International Cooperation
More than 2,000 households in 35 villages that previously relied on opium production in Xamtai district of the northern Lao province of Huaphan will benefit from a 2.2 million euro project on 'Increasing Food Security and Promoting Licit Crop Production and Small Farmer Enterprise Development'.
The European Union has agreed to provide a grant of 1.9 million euros towards the project's total cost with other donors providing the rest of the funding.
The project will run from 2011 to 2013, focusing on providing former poppy farmers with alternative livelihoods in order to eradicate poppy cultivation in Xamtai district.
Minister to the Prime Minister's Office and Chairman of the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision (LCDC) Mr Soubanh Sirithirat, Ambassador/Head of the EU Delegation to Laos Mr David Lipman, and United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) country representative Mr Leik Boonwaat, signed a project document in Vientiane on Friday in the presence of other relevant officials.
The recent report from the UNODC shows that poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia increased by 22 percent between 2009 and 2010.
The largest increase in percentage terms was in Laos at 58 percent, a jump from 1,900 to 3,000 hectares. This was due to former opium farmers being tempted back into poppy cultivation by the high market price of opium and the chronic food insecurity they were facing.
The project aims to reduce poverty, improve food security and living conditions for about 15,000 people in 2,191 households living in 35 villages in Xamtai district.
Meanwhile the project will sustain the post-opium scenario in Laos through supporting the national poverty reduction process towards the achievement of pro-poor growth, negating the impact of the global economic crisis in former opium farmer communities and decreasing the economic vulnerability of opium farmers vis-à-vis transnational organised crime and the spread of illicit trafficking.
In 2006, the government of Laos gave the country an opium-free status.
Between 2006 and 2009, the government and UNODC developed and adopted the National Programme Strategy for the Post-Opium Scenario and Action Plan targeting 1,100 of the poorest villages that used to grow opium poppies.
However, only about 15 percent of the target villages have received assistance in developing alternatives to replace opium.
Land used for opium poppy cultivation in Laos increased from 1,500 hectares in 2007 to 3,000 hectares in 2010.
To address the recent rise and proliferation of illicit drug produ ction, trafficking, abuse, as well as related criminal activities in Laos, LCDC and UNODC has developed a Comprehensive National Drug Control Master Plan from 2009 to 2013 which will be echoed in the 7th National Social and Economic Development Plan for 2011-2015.
Mr Lipman said food security is considered one of the main priorities in EU development assistance to Laos and this project is even more vital as it addresses both poverty and drugs problems.
The EU, through its food security and food facility programmes, funds 15 projects in Laos worth more than 17 million euros in almost all provinces with an aim to reduce food insecurity and poverty at household level.