Burma’s share of global opium production has roughly held steady over the last year, according to a 2009 drug production report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The report, released on June 24, says poppy cultivation in Burma marginally increased to 28,500 ha (hectares) in 2008 from 27,700 ha in 2007, with the total potential value of opium production rising only three million dollars, to US$ 123 million, in 2008.

Opium production in Burma continues to be dominated by the eastern part of the country, with Shan state accounting for 89 percent of national production and the remaining 11 percent split between Kachin and Karenni states.

Khuensai Jaiyen, editor of the Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News, confirmed that eastern Shan state continues to be the hub of the country’s opium production and speculates a further rise in the region’s production is to be expected.

“There will be a further increase in poppy cultivation in the future because people have no other choice for their livelihood than this business,” said Khuensai Jaiyen. He added that local people in Shan state are facing heavy taxes with the additional deployment of 100 Army battalions in the region.

“Only poppy cultivation can possibly give them enough to pay taxes to the Army, so they have to do this job,” explained Jaiyen.

Without the increased Army presence, elaborated Jaiyen, the people could survive on paddy cultivation. But with the further imposition of the military in the region and the corresponding hike in taxation, no option is left to local farmers.

“Except for weapons, they [the Army] do not receive much support from their headquarters, so they are trying to fend for themselves any way they can,” said Jaiyen, an assessment consistent with a now decade-old directive from the Army’s leadership calling for local units to become as self-sufficient as possible.

The business is said to be largely conducted by local armed groups backed by the military junta, according to Jaiyen. “Those who want to cultivate poppy or buy opium need to get permission from them [local armed groups].”

He further added that the recent eradication of poppy fields by the government was only for show and not effective, destroying fields just to create a favorable public image.

According to the junta, 2008 witnessed the eradication of 4,820 ha of poppy.

“Some people are forced to cultivate poppy for a good reason, such as our people,” prospered Jaiyen. “However, we hope there will some day be an effective policy for controlling drug production around the world.”

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