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UNODC report: Sustainable Development Goals are challenged by opium poppy in Shan Myanmar

Yangon (Myanmar), 28 October 2019
- About one in nine households in Shan State remain directly involved in poppy cultivation, confirming that opium continues to be an integral part of the economy despite several years of declining cultivation. Representing a unique evidence base for understanding the resilience of rural communities in northern Myanmar to opium poppy cultivation in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the recently released report "Opium poppy cultivation and sustainable development in Shan State, Myanmar - Socio-economic analysis" covers a range of socio-economic indicators that can be used for planning related development and technical assistance programmes.

UNODC conducted a survey in 599 villages in opium poppy cultivation risk areas in Shan State over 2018, gathering socio-economic and other data to compare poppy villages and non-poppy villages. The report collates and analyses information collected through interviews of more than 1,500 households, as well as interviews with village leaders in all 599 villages, revealing that opium poppy cultivating villages have generally lower levels of development, with notable deficiencies and disparities related to security, the environment, employment and quality infrastructure.

The report also confirms that government presence and enforcement of the law plays a central role in discouraging opium cultivation. For villages that have never grown poppy, 37 per cent of village leaders reported that government contact and enforcement of the ban was one of the top three reasons for not starting cultivation. For villages that had stopped growing poppy, 41 per cent said the ban on poppy was a factor in their decision. "Government enforcement of the poppy cultivation ban needs to be complemented by alternative development programmes that help farmers to make a fair legal income. Cutting down opium poppy without providing alternatives often results in food insecurity and even displacement." said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. "For the national drug policy to be successful and sustainable, communities need to feel safe, secure and supported."

Improvements in infrastructure are difficult and costly, but they are needed to improve access to markets so that farmers have the opportunity to negotiate prices, and to consolidate development efforts in the long term. Geographical remoteness limits access to understanding and information, particularly related to market prices and supply of cash crops. Bridging the gap that exists between traders and farmers is critical to empowering communities and helping to ensure viable alternatives to poppy can be supported. "Poppy growing villages need to be connected if farmers are to be encouraged to grow other crops. The stress on local resources can be acute, and policies have to consider environmental sustainability" said Troels Vester, UNODC Country Manager in Myanmar. "UNODC has been asked to increase its alternative development support to the Government of Myanmar, and has announced several projects to improve short- and medium-term access to food and income."

Data collection at the household level has also provided better insights into the lives of individual farmers. "Efforts to improve development need to fit the needs of communities and farmers in Shan. More research is needed to understand the differences and requirements of the poorest and most remote villages.", said Regional Representative Douglas. He added, "Research like this can be used alongside data from our cultivation and annual village surveys to inform policies and strategies. We are also considering further investigation of the interaction between policy and development interventions, and poppy cultivation. It is important we have a deeper understanding of what is happening in Shan if we are to show progress towards reducing dependence on opium, and ultimately advancing the SDGs."

Click here for more information on UNODC's Regional Programme and Strategy for Southeast Asia.

Click here for more information on UNODC's Myanmar Country Programme.

Click here to learn more about UNODC's work on drugs and precursors.

Click here to learn more about the Mekong MOU.

Click here to learn more about UNODC's work on sustainable alternative development.