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Opium poppy cultivation increasing in SE Asia

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Article from Vientiane Times
Author: Vientiane Times Reporters
Published: 16/12/2010
Newspaper section: International Cooperation


Opium poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia jumped by more than 20 percent in the past year, according to the 2010 Report on Opium Poppy Cultivation in Southeast Asia from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

UNODC Representative in Laos, Mr Leik Boonwaat, gave a presentation yesterday on the report, which comprises UNODC Laos and Myanmar Opium Surveys, as well as information on poppy cultivation in Thailand from its Office of the Narcotics Control Board.

The report points to rising levels of opium poppy cultivation across all three countries. It also highlights the fact that opium prices remain high. During the period under review, the potential value for opium production in Southeast Asia rose dramatically to US$219 million - an increase of US$100 million from the 2009 estimate, and a monetary jump of 82 percent.

In terms of poppy cultivation, there was a 22 percent increase between 2009 and 2010 in the region as a whole. The increase was largest in percentage terms in Laos - 58 percent, an increase from 1,900 to 3,000 hectares. When compared with figures from 2007, there has been an increase of 1


00 percent, from 1,500 to 3000 hectares.

Chairman of the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision, Mr Soubanh Srithirath, said at the press conference yesterday to launch the report that the Lao government is greatly concerned about this trend.

He emphasised that the government is highly committed to checking the recidivism of opium production, controlling trafficking and curbing the abuse of illicit drugs, including amphetamines, heroin and injected drugs, as well as the spread of HIV/AIDS, all of which negatively impact on society and the socio-economic development of the country.

"I urge continued support of the National Drug Control Master Plan in the fight against illicit drugs and their negative effects," said Mr Soubanh, who is also Minister to the Prime Minister's Office.

He added that the government continues to give assistance to former opium poppy cultivating communities, who have always been and remain the poorest communities in Laos, by providing the socioeconomic development required to ensure food security, reduce poverty and make progress in completely eliminating the illicit cultivation.

The survey shows that while opium poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia remains well below the peak figures of the mid-1990s - where it hovered around 160,000 hectares - the year-on-year increase over the past four years, from the low point in 2006, has been relentlessly upward.

While governments have increased their eradication efforts, the potential opium production in 2010 is estimated to have increased by about 75 percent, in Myanmar from 330 to 582 tonnes, with Laos' levels rising by 7 to 18 tonnes in 2010, and Thailand's by 36 percent.

In terms of eradication, 9,135 hectares of poppy fields in the region were destroyed in 2010, up by 85 percent from 4,939 hectares the previous year. At country level, eradication efforts in Laos dipped slight by 11 percent from 651 to 579 hectares.

"Poverty and instability are two of the drivers which push farmers to grow or sometimes return to growing illicit crops," UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov said, adding that the rising price of opium over the past few years has also been instrumental in making opium cultivation an attractive option for many.