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Laos, Former opium growers take up vegetable farming

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Article from Vientiane Times
Published: 13/09/2013
Newspaper section: International Cooperation

A project encouraging former opium poppy farmers to instead grow organic vegetables in Oudomxay province is progressing well and preparing to expand.

The project, run by the Lao government, Thailand's Royal Project Foundation and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, is launching in Xay district's Lak Sip village, with the Thai organisation providing seeds and offering workshops on organic vegetable cultivation.

Acting Chairman of the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision, Mr Kou Chansina, said Lak Sip village was once filled with fields of opium poppies. "But farmers won't go back to growing opium poppies once they have an income from selling organic vegetables," he said.

Ten of the 120 families in the village are model families for the project, setting an example to others in the village and across the country. The project is preparing to expand its membership and the amount of land under cultivation in the village to provide more produce to meet market demand.

Organically grown vegetables are becoming more and more in demand across the country for their health benefits. One member of the farming group, Ms Some Souda, has been growing organic vegetables in Lak Sip with support from the Royal Project Foundation for almost two years.

Ms Some said she can earn up to 2 million kip each month by selling more than 300kg of vegetables to markets in Oudomxay province. "I will soon expand my plots to grow more organic produce, as it's not enough to meet demand at the moment," she said. When former opium poppy growers have found sustainable work outside of the illicit industry, it is believed opium will gradually disappear from Laos.

In 2012 the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported opium cultivation was on the increase after Laos had declared itself virtually free of the practice in 2006. Almost 27,000ha of opium poppies were growing in the country in 1998, which was reduced to just 1,500ha by 2006. However in 2008 the area under cultivation was estimated at 1,600ha, and since then it has steadily increased to 1,900ha in 2009, 3,000ha in 2010, 4,100ha in 2011 and 6,800ha in 2012.