Representatives of opium and coca growers from Myanmar and Colombia delivered statements describing situation on the ground
Statement from Myanmar
Political Economy of Opium Reduction in Myanmar: Voices from the Grassroots
My name is Sai Lone, one of the Eastern Shan State opium farmer representatives to the Myanmar Opium Farmers’ Forum (MOFF). [MOFF has been convening annual forum with the participation of opium farmer representatives from major opium growing regions in Myanmar - Shan, Kachin and Kayah – since 2013. MOFF is a platform for opium farmers to come together sharing our experiences, discussing our problems and making our voice heard.]
In Eastern Shan, opium farming has become the main livelihood for farmers living in remote high mountain area since many generations. Income derived from opium farming is used to pay for costs of food, daily commodities, religious donation, social activities, health care and education for kids. There are very few crops that can survive the extreme weather and thin soil fertility of high elevation. In addition, poor road access and distance from market (trading center) make many cash crops not profitable enough to feed their families.
Significance of opium poppy as cash crop are: short term – can harvest within 100 days, easy to grow, easy to get credit, resistance to extreme weather of high elevation, least depletion of soil nutrients, easy to store and transport, high value and ready market.
Furthermore, indigenous people use opium to cure many common diseases in highland regions, such as diarrhea, dysentery, asthma, chronic cough, rheumatic pain and hypertension, etc. They also use opium in social ceremonies – house warming, wedding, funeral and other cultural rituals. Therefore, highland people often refer opium as the “gift from heaven”.
To address opium production problem, Myanmar government adopts suppressive law enforcement: criminalize farmers and eradicate opium fields without any livelihood supports. Forced eradication makes us lose all our investment and labor, and the income that expected to get us throughout the whole year. It pushed us into vicious debt cycle, as most of us had borrowed money to invest in our opium field. Some farmers migrated and worked in Thailand in order to repay their debt, and some even had to sell out their land. One opium farmer in southern Shan suicided last 2 years ago when his opium field was eradicated, it is really a sad news.
Myanmar government has been eradicating our opium fields since I was a kid, but there are still opium fields nowadays and even increased. I think government should review and change their ways of doing thing. Eradication doesn’t reduce the opium cultivation. It only destroys the livelihood of poor farmers.
Government should not punish us by eradicate our opium fields, it only make our lives from bad to worse. Instead, they should work with us by providing supports that are effective and efficient for us to change our livelihoods without rely on income derived from opium farming.
Thank you very much for your attention!
Statement from Colombia
CONTRIBUTION TO UNODC IN THE THEMATIC SESSION
Pedro J. Arenas García
My name is Pedro J. Arenas García. I'm Colombian. In the 80s, like many other people, I went to work in the field collecting coca leaf, from the crops that grew in the region. I was just 13 years old and so I started to earn my own incomes.
I remember when adults commented that this crop was an illegal activity, and that is why at any time we could be arrested by the authorities. Faced with this fear, farmers increasingly penetrated remote areas of greater environmental importance, generating an increase in the rate of deforestation in the Amazon.
For two decades aerial spraying with the agrotoxic glyphosate against coca crops, generated losses of legal crops, broke down family economies based on that activity and led to human rights violations. My mother also lost her crop and she had to leave the field, leaving what she had to move to the nearest city and start her life again.
As a civic leader in my region, I have been promoting the defense of the human rights of indigenous people, farmers and Afro-descendants who plant coca for traditional and cultural purposes, as well as those families that do so to obtain base pasta.
During these years I have seen how stigmatization and persecution campaigns have been carried out on that plant and the farmers that live of it.
Currently, I am part of the Viso Mutop Corporation, an organization that is dedicated to accompanying indigenous, peasant and Afro-descendant communities that earn income from coca, poppy or marijuana crops. In recent years I have witnessed the commitment of the peasant families that uprooted their coca crops. They eradicated almost 40,000 hectares, which represent some 500 tons of cocaine per year, between 2017 and 2018, as part of the commitments to the Plan for voluntary crop substitution that was launched by mandate of the last Peace Agreement.
The voluntary substitution has shown that if community participation is possible to conclude work plans that allow the gradual overcoming of the illicit economy. But substitution is a process that takes time. It cannot be measured only in how many hectares are eradicated but in terms of how much access to development was propitiated in those communities. The substitution of crops must be tied to solving land problems by facilitating access to property for families that do not have it.
Likewise, the process of removing some plants to install others is insufficient in the contexts where the crops declared illicit grow. There, technical assistance, food security, productive projects, on-site crop transformation, infrastructure, market access and security are also required. Ultimately, crop substitution is linked to the access and security are also required. Ultimately, crop substitution is linked to the realization of the human rights.
More recently, the world has seen the drug laws of several countries evolve to allow marijuana crops to be used in the medical industry. Undoubtedly this allows to generate jobs, the payment of taxes, scientific progress and the supply of medicines to the population. However, we see with concern that the native communities (especially indigenous and peasant) are not being able to access the opportunities that the new market offers.
We call on States and the United Nations to fully incorporate into the crop substitution policies, the guiding principles of alternative development, a logical and appropriate sequence that facilitates the incorporation of communities into true development taking into account the objectives of sustainable development and full respect for human rights, which implies leaving behind the use of force, recognizing the citizenship of the families currently in these activities.
Also, we urge States and the United Nations to adopt measures that facilitate opportunities for communities in the medical cannabis industry, taking into account fair trade parameters for them.
Finally, we believe that UNODC can provide technical support to governments in many countries, promoting alternative rural development, without prejudice to the sovereignty of States. His role as a verifier of commitments, in the progressive reduction of illicit crops, cannot be affected by financing agreements with national governments that involve him departing from his neutral character and being a judge and part of eradication plans that make him lose legitimacy before populations.
Sai Lone is a representative of the Myanmar Opium Farmers' Forum, a platform founded and led by opium farmers to discuss the implications of and alternatives to supply-oriented drug policies for communities involved in illicit opium cultivation in Myanmar. Pedro J. Arenas García is a representative of Viso Mutop Corporation, a national organisation that supports the human rights of coca, poppy, and cannabis growers in Colombia.