Downward Spiral

Banning Opium in Afghanistan and Burma

17 June 2005

Opium farmers in Afghanistan and Burma are coming under huge pressure as local authorities implement bans on the cultivation of poppy.

Opium farmers in Afghanistan and Burma are coming under huge pressure as local authorities implement bans on the cultivation of poppy. Banning opium has an immediate and profound impact on the livelihoods of more than 4 million people. These bans are a response to pressure from the international community. Afghan and Burmese authorities alike are urging the international community to accompany their pressure with substantial aid.

For political reasons, levels of humanitarian and alternative development aid are very different between the two countries. The international community has pledged several hundred millions for rural development in poppy growing regions in Afghanistan. In sharp contrast, pledged support that could soften the crisis in poppy regions in Burma is less than $15 million, leaving an urgent shortfall.

Opium growing regions in both countries will enter a downward spiral of poverty because of the ban. The reversed sequencing of first forcing farmers out of poppy cultivation before ensuring other income opportunities is a grave mistake. Aggressive drug control efforts against farmers and small-scale opium traders, and forced eradication operations in particular, also have a negative impact on prospects for peace and democracy in both countries.

In neither Afghanistan nor Burma have farmers had any say at all in these policies from which they stand to suffer most. It is vital that local communities and organisations that represent them are given a voice in the decision-making process that has such a tremendous impact on their livelihoods.

Nr 12 -
June 2005
David Aronson, Fiona Dove (eds.)
24 pages

About the authors

Martin Jelsma

Martin Jelsma is a political scientist who has specialised in Latin America and international drugs policy.  In 2005, he received the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship, which stated that Jelsma "is increasingly recognized as one of, if not the, outstanding strategists in terms of how international institutions deal with drugs and drug policy."

In 1995 he initiated and has since co-oordinated TNI's Drugs & Democracy Programme which focuses on drugs and conflict studies with a focus on the Andean/Amazon region, Burma/Myanmar and Afghanistan, and on the analysis and dialogues around international drug policy making processes (with a special focus on the UN drug control system). Martin is a regular speaker at international policy conferences and advises various NGOs and government officials on developments in the drugs field. He is co-editor of the TNI Drugs & Conflict debate papers and the Drug Policy Briefing series.

Tom Kramer

Tom Kramer (1968) is a political scientist and with over 15-years of working experience on Burma and its border regions, which he has visited regularly since 1993.  

His work focuses on developing a better understanding of the drugs market in the region as a whole, the relationship between production and consumption, and alternative development (AD). Together with the Drugs and Democracy Programme, Kramer has created a regional network of local researchers, and is also carrying out advocacy towards policy makers in the region for more sustainable and human drug policies.

Since 2005 Kramer also works on Afghanistan, with a focus onthe relationship between drugs & conflict, and the involvement of western security forces in counter narcotic activities. Apart from his work for TNI, he is also a writer and freelance consultant, specializing on ethnic conflict and civil society in Burma. He has carried out field research and written reports for a wide range of international NGOs, institutes and UN organisations.

Recent publications from Drugs and Democracy

Human rights and drug policy

An accessible but comprehensive primer on why TNI believes that human rights must be at the heart of any debate on drug control.

The Current State of Counternarcotics Policy and Drug Reform Debates in Myanmar

Are Myanmar's current drug policies effective? How do they impact important issues such as human rights, sustainable development, ethnic conflict, and the peace process?

Prospects for Treaty Reform and UN Coherence on Drug Policy

Can UNGASS 2016 realistically initiate a process of modernizing the global drug control system and breathe oxygen into a system risking asphyxiation?

Towards a Healthier Legal Environment

The decision of the Myanmar Government to review drug laws is not only timely, but also offers a prospect to improve the drugs legislation and to ensure that the laws address drug-related problems in the country more effectively.