The recently-released “Myanmar Opium Survey 2018” by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) entails specific accusations against several of the conflict actors. This commentary explains how this further distorts, rather than reflects, the complex realities in Myanmar.
The problem of opium should not be perceived only as a simple, black-and-white, law enforcement problem. To address problems related to opium cultivation, substantial socio-economic development is required to provide meaningful alternatives for farmers, and to ensure that a humanitarian crisis will not occur as the consequence of repressive drug control policies.
For most farmers and their families, opium cultivation is a means of survival, especially in the context poverty, insecurity, and repression. This film sensitively portrays the lives of two opium farming families in Myanmar and sheds light on their plight.
The voice of communities involved in illicit cultivation had long been excluded from policymaking platforms. However, thanks to growing networks such as the Myanmar Opium Farmers Forum, more and more farmers have gained more space to provide input to drug policy discussions at the UN level.
Between 26 and 28 May 2018, representatives of opium farming communities in several states in Myanmar came together in Lashio, Shan State, to share experiences, concerns, and initiatives on the issue of illicit cultivation, especially in relation with supply-side policies which have affected their lives and livelihoods. A final statement was concluded at the end of the forum.
In December 2017, the Transnational Institute (TNI) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany (BMZ), in collaboration with the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) and the Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage (MFLF), jointly organised the 9th Asian Informal Drug Policy Dialogue (IDPD) in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Opium farmers and representatives of their communities came together to discuss the challenges they face in their lives, and to share experiences and find ways to solve their problems. This is their statement.
The Fix - The most recent figures, released in 2014 by UNODC, show that poppy cultivation has more than doubled since 2006. A report by the Transnational Institute (TNI) sheds light on the reasons behind this increase.
Today the Myanmar Opium Farmers' Forum released the report of its third meeting. The report stresses that farmers grow opium to ensure food security for their families and to provide for basic needs, and to have access to health and education. According to the report, "The large majority of opium farmers are not rich and grow it for their survival. Therefore, they should not be treated as criminals."
Current drug control polices in South-east Asia are repressive and criminalise opium farmers, greatly affecting the lives of communities cultivating opium. Most policy responses – including from some armed opposition groups – focus on eradication of poppy fields and the implementation of strict bans on opium cultivation.
On 11 and 12 September 2015 opium farmers and representatives of opium farming communities from Kayah State, Shan State, Kachin State and Chin State, came together in Upper Myanmar to discuss the drug policies affecting their lives. Following from the discussions the farmers issued a statement with recommendations to policy makers nationally and internationally.
In July the First Southeast Asia Opium Farmers Forum was held, bringing together some 30 representatives of local communities involved in opium cultivation and local community workers from the major opium growing regions in Southeast Asia.
The Chinese Government's opium substitution programmes in northern Burma and Laos have prompted a booming rubber industry, but the beneficiaries have been a small few with many others losing their lands as a result.