Former opium farmers plant vines for China
A new project underway encourages former opium poppy farmers to instead grow a species of vine, known locally as ton kheua naman or oil vine trees, in Oudomxay province.
The project, run by the provincial government, the provincial Drug Control Office, and Lao-China Agriculture Testing Techniques Centre, is currently starting in Baeng district.
Provincial authorities initially allowed farmers to grow vines on about 250 hectares of land, with the fruit harvested destined for export to China.
But the permitted area under crop was increased to between 3,000 and 5,000 hectares, after recent discussions between the Governor of Oudomxay province and high-ranking officials from Yunnan, China.
“It's not only for former opium poppy farmers, but also general people who want to plant it,” Head of Lao-China Agriculture Testing Techniques Centre, Mr Sonesouphan Songcherphaseuth, told Vientiane Times on Tuesday.
Each district has a pilot garden and experienced technicians on-hand to give them advice on farming methods and ensuring good yields, including growing oil vine saplings for distribution to local farmers.
“The centre has many Lao and Chinese technicians to oversee the initiative and assist growers at all times,” Mr Sonesouphan said.
The Yinong Company and the Gingu Company from Yunnan province in China have committed to purchase all the fruit of the oil vines planted, at a cost of 15,000 kip per kilogram.
It is envisaged the project will help improve local farmers' incomes from selling the fruit to China, with farming project having the potential to help reduce poverty levels in the province.
“China will import the fruit of the oil vines to extract the oil for cooking, medicinal uses and cosmetics, which is destined for consumption on the Chinese market,” Mr Sonesouphan said.
Growers can harvest the fruit of the oil vines about one year after planting with the vines having a lifespan of around 15 year s if well maintained.
The Chinese producers elected to begin trial planting in Oudomxay because the province shares a border with China. Oudomxay province and Yinong Company began the oil vine trial at the centre at the end of 2013.
When former opium poppy growers have found sustainable work outside of the illicit industry, it is believed opium will gradually disappear from Laos.
In 2012 the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported opium cultivation was on the increase after Laos had declared itself virtually free of the practice in 2006.
Almost 27,000ha of opium poppies were growing in the country in 1998, which was reduced to just 1,500ha by 2006.
However in 2008 the area under cultivation was estimated at 1,600ha, and since then it has steadily increased to 1,900ha in 2009, 3,000ha in 2010, 4,100ha in 2011 and 6,800ha in 2012.
By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
(Latest Update January 22, 2014)