Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, the raw material for heroin. In 2000, the Taleban regime enforced an opium ban that led to the virtual disappearance of opium poppy cultivation in areas under their control. In drug control terms, this is often referred to as an unprecedented success, yet the ban caused a major humanitarian disaster for hundreds of thousands dependent on the illicit economy.
Burma/Myanmar is undergoing yet another humanitarian crisis while entering a new critical political stage. In the Kokang region, an opium ban was enforced in 2003, and since mid-2005 no more poppy growing has been allowed in the Wa region. Banning opium in these Shan State regions where most of the Burmese opiates were produced, adds another chapter to the long and dramatic history of drugs, conflict and human suffering.
UNDCPs 1998 plan to eradicate the cultivation of both coca and opium poppy by the year 2008 was a rare opportunity to re-think current drugs efforts. Member states were asked to endorse a plan, known as SCOPE, for the eradication of drugs-linked crops by 2008. Is SCOPE viable? And what impact would it have on poor farmers who grow drugs-linked crops to survive?
The Transnational Institute (TNI) and the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) co-hosted the First Southeast Asian Informal Drug Policy Dialogue, 12-14 February 2009 in Bangkok. The dialogue – similar to TNI efforts in Europe and Latin America – brought together government officials, experts, NGOs and representatives of international agencies, to discuss dilemmas and possible improvements in drug policy making in the region. Participants in the Bangkok meeting were from Burma, Thailand, Laos, Yunnan (China) and Northeast India.
The last of the four ‘round tables’ of the high-level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was devoted to the broad issue of Countering illicit drug traffic and supply, and alternative development. TNI had been nominated by the Vienna NGO Committee to give a statement on the issue of Alternative Development (AD), being one of the few member NGOs with a track record on this issue and having actively participated in the Beyond 2008 initiative, including the negotiations at the July NGO forum to reach consensus on the text of a paragraph on AD in the final declaration. This is our impression of the event.
A decade ago, Myanmar seemed on course to wipe out the opium fields and heroin jungle labs along its eastern border, the notorious Golden Triangle. Today, valley after valley in these mist-shrouded mountains is covered with resplendent opium poppies, tended by farmers who perch on steep hillsides to harvest the plant’s sticky, intoxicating sap.
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 a global meeting small scale farmers of cannabis, coca and opium from 14 countries discussed their contribution to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS). The UNGASS will discuss all aspects of global drug control policies, including the worldwide ban on the cultivation of coca, poppy and cannabis, an issue the Global Farmers Forum demands that their voices be heard and taken into account.
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.
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.