Former opium users resume poppy farming
More than 2,000 former opium users in the northern province of Phongsaly are once again growing the crop and have resumed their habit.
A poppy field in the mountains. -- Photo UNODC
Almost every day a large number of former opium smokers are returning to this unhealthy practice.
Chief of the provincial Drug Control Office, Mr Paoly Mounnaseng, told the Vientiane Times on Tuesday that they understood and reluctantly accepted the situation as there was little alternative work for people in this area.
I began seeing the poppy growers and opium smokers return in 2009, after the detoxification centres and the projects to create alternative jobs left the province, he said.
In 2002, there were 6,092 registered opium addicts in the province which made it the highest opium consumer in the country.
But before the government declared the country free of opium in 2006, almost all the drug users had been detoxified.
In 1998 there were almost 27,000 hectares under opium poppy cultivation, but only 1,500 hectares were said to remain throughout the country when Laos declared itself to be virtually free of the crop. But by 2012 poppy growers were once again cultivating the crop on up to 6,800 hectares i n six provinces of northern Laos.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that the province with the largest area under cultivation was Phongsaly, with Huaphan in second place.
We will educate them in the hope that they will destroy their illicit crop themselves. If they don't we will ask other villagers to do it and if they cannot or will not, we will bring in the provincial police, Mr Paoly said.
Next year the province will require poppy growers to sign a document, approved by the provincial authorities, committing them to giving up poppy farming. After that, if they still have not stopped, they will be fined according to Lao law.
Funding support from international organisations to create alternative jobs has been limited and the government is in need of assistance as there is not much money available for this work.
Most opium poppy fields are concentrated in remote areas, which makes it difficult for eradication teams to access and destroy the crops. This provides an opportunity for some unscrupulous people to pay villagers to grow the crop for them.
It is not known what the price of the crop is at the farm gate as it is almost impossible to access areas where the poppies are grown.
However, local authorities have recorded opium prices at the provincial level, usually during the harvest or soon after it.
As in previous years, it was not possible to make a clear distinction between wholesale and retail prices in 2012 because opium is usually consumed by people who purchase it locally. In 2012, opium prices reached US$1,800 per kilogramme, up 76 percent on the 2011 price.
By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
(Latest Update April 10, 2013)