From Golden Triangle to Rubber Belt?

1 July 2009

In the Kokang and Wa regions in northern Burma opium bans have ended poppy cultivation, but have caused chronic poverty and food insecurity as a result.

In the Kokang and Wa regions in northern Burma opium bans have ended over a century of poppy cultivation. The bans have had dramatic consequences for local communities. They depended on opium as a cash crop, to buy food, clothing, and medicines.

The bans have driven poppy-growing communities into chronic poverty and have adversely affected their food security. Very few alternatives are being offered to households for their survival. The Kokang and Wa cease-fire groups have implemented these bans following international pressure, especially from neighbouring China. In return, they hope to gain international political recognition and aid to develop their impoverished and war-torn regions.

The Kokang and Wa authorities have been unable to provide alternative sources of income for ex-poppy farmers. Instead they have promoted Chinese invest-ment in monoplantations, especially in rubber. These projects have created many undesired effects and do not significantly profit the population.

Conclusions & Recommendations

• The opium bans have driven communities into chronic poverty and have adversely affected their food security and access to health care and education.

• The Kokang and Wa authorities have promoted Chinese investment in mono-plantations, especially in rubber. These projects are unsustainable and do not significantly profit the population.

• Ex-poppy farmers mainly rely on casual labour and collecting Non-Timber Forest Products as alternative source of income.

• Current interventions by international NGOs and UN agencies are still limited in scale and can best be described as “emer-gency responses”.

• If the many challenges to achieving viable legal livelihoods in the Kokang and Wa regions are not addressed, the reductions in opium cultivation are unlikely to be sustainable.

Nr 29 -
July 2009
In: From Golden Triangle to Rubber Belt?
12 pages
ISBN/ISSN: 2214-8906

About the authors

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

Drugs, armed conflict and peace

This policy briefing analyses the results of the partial agreement on drugs reached at the talks being held in Havana between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, and the Colombian government.

Scheduling in the international drug control system

Scheduling is mostly priotised in it's repressive pole, though present debates are increasingly highlighting the need to modify the balance of the system in order to affirm the importance of the principle of health.

Bouncing Back

TNI's indepth examination of the illegal drug market in the Golden Triangle, which has a witnessed a doubling of opium production, growing prison populations and repression of small-scale farmers. This report details the failure of ASEAN's 'drug free' strategy and the need for a new approach.

Cocaine: towards a self-regulation model

By taking cues from users’ self-regulation strategies, it is possible to design innovative operational models for drug services as well as drug policies, strengthening Harm Reduction as an alternative approach to the disease model.