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Mekong drug agency leaders accompany UNODC to Shan State to meet opium farming communities and discuss programmes and support

Taunggyi (Myanmar), 24 May 2018
- Drug agency leaders from the Mekong region - Cambodia, China, Lao, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam - alongside UNODC, are visiting remote, mountainous areas around Taunggyi and Hopong of Shan State, Myanmar for two days to meet with former and current opium growing farmers and villages.

The visit has been arranged to connect senior regional policymakers with opium farming communities, to understand the challenges they face and to discuss programmes that can provide alternate sources of income. The Mekong leaders are considering how to support and scale-up so-called alternative development or AD programmes, and, as a result, UNODC and the Government of Myanmar arranged the trip to see the area, living conditions in local communities and the impacts of AD programmes first-hand.


"Talking directly with the farmers and those involved in the projects has been important", said China National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC) Deputy Secretary General Wei Xiaojun. "Conditions in the communities have improved significantly since they moved away from growing opium, and we have appreciated listening to farmers discuss the benefits and challenges they have faced to make these projects a success. We are committed to seeing alternative development succeed, and hopefully to expand, here in Shan, Myanmar."

He added, "China is considering further support to UNODC so that these efforts become more widely known and so more projects can happen here and in Laos. We encourage other international partners to invest in UNODC programmes that benefit the Mekong region like this."

Officials in attendance were provided with a comprehensive overview of UNODC projects in the area, from the projects' initial conception to their on-the-ground implementation. UNODC experts based in Taunggyi briefed delegates on the work to initiate and sustain coffee production, and arranged for officials to visit three communities where the transition away from opium has successfully taken place, including to working coffee farms and production facilities. In each community, officials were able to meet village leaders and farmers and listen to feedback about the projects, while also being informed about local issues and circumstances.

"Introducing Mekong policymakers to the communities we are working with in Shan is an important step towards aligning our efforts with wider regional development agendas," said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. "We expect that this field visit has opened the eyes of drug policy leaders in the region to the realities faced by communities with few economic options, and that it has impressed on them why a development led approach can help governments address opium and heroin production."

UNODC has been helping farmers around Taunggyi to transition from opium to high-value coffee for nearly four years, with significant transformations in participating communities making the projects' successes clear. The project has so far assisted more than 1000 farmers and their families to develop sustainable incomes within the licit economy. Local enthusiasm for the projects was made further apparent as the farmers recently formed a coffee production cooperative which has now reached an agreement with Malongo of France, a major coffee producer, to purchase their entire coffee crop for a five-year period.

"The projects here in South Shan State are a good start," said UNODC's development expert Jamie Perez. "We hope that the officials have appreciated the impressive return on investment the projects offer. The communities have been positively transformed while opium cultivation has been reduced. The timing is good to invest in similar projects in Lao and Myanmar."

UNODC crop substitution programmes are helping opium growing communities in Shan develop in-line with international guidelines and standards for alternative development, and the agreement reached through the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem or UNGASS. The projects help improve livelihoods, incorporating economic, social and environmental components into each project. Notably, each project works to improve the local environment through supporting reforestation opportunities.

The total area of opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar decreased significantly in 2017 to 41,000 hectares, down 25% from the 55,500 recorded in 2015 in-part due to the effectiveness of substitution and alternative development programmes, as well as broader shifts in the regional drug market towards synthetic drugs.

The visit to Taungyyi and Hopong follows the Senior Officials Conference (SOC) of the Mekong MOU on Drug Control in Nay Pyi Taw May 21-22. The conference brought together the leadership of Mekong drug authorities and over 100 senior delegates and experts to consider the latest data, and for detailed discussions on drug law enforcement, justice, health and alternative development strategies and programmes, while reviewing the implementation of the last Mekong strategy that the countries agreed to.

Click here to learn more about UNODC's work on sustainable alternative development.
Click here to learn more about the Mekong MOU on Drug Control.
Click here to learn more about UNODC's work on drugs and precursors.