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Opium Cultivation Surge in Southeast Asia

Context:

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has released the “Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2023 – Cultivation, Production, and Implications,” revealing a substantial increase in opium cultivation in the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Asia.

Relevance:

GS III:  Linkages of Organized Crime with Terrorism

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Highlights of the Report: Opium Cultivation in the Golden Triangle
  2. Recommendations: Addressing the Opium Cultivation Crisis in Myanmar
  3. Key Facts about Opium Poppy Plants
  4. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

Key Highlights of the Report: Opium Cultivation in the Golden Triangle

Expansion in Opium Cultivation:
  • Opium cultivation in the Golden Triangle, a notorious region for illicit drug production, witnessed significant growth in Myanmar.
  • The Golden Triangle encompasses the borders of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand.
  • Another infamous region is the Golden Crescent, including Afghanistan and Iran, serving as a transit point for drug smuggling out of Pakistan.
Increase in Myanmar’s Opium Cultivation:
  • Myanmar experienced an 18% surge in opium cultivation, reaching 47,100 hectares.
  • This rise solidified Myanmar as the world’s largest opium source, influenced by disruptions following the Military Takeover in 2021.
Advancements in Farming Practices:
  • Average opium yield per hectare increased by 16%, reaching 22.9 kilograms/hectare.
  • This growth signifies improved farming methods, increased investments in irrigation, and fertilizers, indicating a more sophisticated approach by farmers and buyers.
Rising Prices Despite Increased Supply:
  • Despite an expanding opium supply, the price paid to farmers rose by 27% to around USD 355 per kilogram.
  • The price surge reflects the allure of opium as a crop and commodity, indicating robust demand fueling the opium trade in the Golden Triangle.
Anticipation of Impact from Afghanistan’s Opium Ban:
  • The report foresees that the sustained ban on opium in Afghanistan by the Taliban will likely result in prolonged high prices and further increases in cultivation in Southeast Asia.
  • The Taliban’s ban caused a 95% drop in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan.
Broader Implications on Illicit Economy:
  • Opium cultivation expansion contributes to a wider illicit economy in the Mekong region, encompassing Cambodia, China (Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • It fuels synthetic drug production and converges with drug trafficking, money laundering, and online criminal activities, generating significant profits for organized crime groups.

Recommendations: Addressing the Opium Cultivation Crisis in Myanmar

  • Comprehensive Solutions for Crime and Governance Challenges:
    • The crisis in Myanmar contributes to heightened crime and governance challenges in the region.
    • Addressing these issues requires comprehensive solutions that acknowledge the complex realities faced by people in opium-cultivation areas.
  • Viable Alternatives to Opium Cultivation:
    • To counter the growing trend, it is essential to provide viable alternatives to opium cultivation.
    • Improving socio-economic conditions in affected areas is crucial to steer communities away from reliance on opium.
  • UNODC’s Direct Engagement in Myanmar and Laos:
    • Given the insecurities and economic hardships experienced by farming communities, the direct engagement of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) with these communities in Myanmar and Laos is more critical than ever.
  • Building Resilience and Sustainable Alternatives:
    • Building resilience within these communities and offering sustainable income generation alternatives are vital strategies.
    • By addressing economic hardships and providing viable alternatives, the allure of opium cultivation can be effectively combatted.

Key Facts about Opium Poppy Plants

Scientific Name:

  • The opium poppy is scientifically known as Papaver somniferum.

Uses:

  • Opium derived from the sap of the opium poppy has been used for centuries.
  • Used as a pain reliever, sedative, and in the production of opioids like morphine, codeine, and heroin.
  • Medicinally employed to alleviate severe pain, suppress coughs, and induce sleep.

Global Production:

  • India is the sole country authorized by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) to produce gum opium.
  • Other countries cultivating opium poppies include Australia, Austria, France, China, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, and the Czech Republic.
  • Some countries utilize the Concentrate of Poppy Straw process (CPS), involving the processing of the bulb with 8 inches of the stalk.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC):

  • Established in 1997, designated as UNODC in 2002.
  • Acts as the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, consolidating the United Nations International Drug Control Program (UNDCP) and the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division of the United Nations Office at Vienna.

-Source: Indian Express


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