Secretary-General welcomes UNODC assistance to support opium poppy farmers in Myanmar
4 May 2012 - Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has witnessed efforts by UNODC and the Government of Myanmar to support alternative development projects for the country's opium poppy farmers. As part of his official visit to Myanmar this week, the Secretary-General travelled to the southern Shan village of Kyauk Ka Cha to highlight the importance of addressing the relationship between food insecurity, poverty, poppy cultivation and armed conflict.
Poppy cultivation produces insecurity in Shan State, and addressing it is necessary if support is to be developed for the promising peace-building process so important to the future of Myanmar.
Speaking to local officials following the distribution of rice donated by the United Nations, Mr. Ban said: "I welcome the cooperation between Myanmar and UNODC in delivering alternative development assistance to poppy farmers. The scale of the need is great, and available resources are insufficient. I will be encouraging United Nations Member States to contribute to these programmes in support of the people of Shan."
UNODC Regional Representative for South East Asia and Pacific, Gary Lewis, said: "To support the development of peace and security in Shan State we must banish the illicit drug economy on which so much insecurity rests."
UNODC estimates that 246,000 households are involved in opium cultivation in Myanmar, with 91 per cent of opium cultivation occurring in Shan State. Government poppy eradication efforts have reportedly increased four-fold in the growing season, which has just ended. But eradication has also increased food insecurity as communities dependent on income from now-destroyed poppy scramble to feed their families.
Opium poppy farmers in Myanmar require legitimate income-generating opportunities, without which they will fall back on the lucrative cash crop. UNODC currently operates three alternative development projects in south Shan State to help reduce opium poppy production by providing alternative income-earning and livelihood opportunities. The amount involved is a modest US$7 million, spread over four years and provided directly to communities on the ground. The projects, funded by the European Union and the Government of Germany, include rice assistance provided in partnership with the World Food Programme.
Myanmar is the world's second largest opium poppy grower after Afghanistan, accounting for 23 per cent of opium poppy cultivation worldwide in 2011. Poppy grows throughout Shan State, however the areas with highest cultivation intensity are in and around those areas of conflict between government and ethnic forces.
In December 2011, the Myanmar government signed a cease-fire agreement with one of two major ethnic armed forces in the State, and signed a ceasefire with the second group in January 2012. These agreements each contain an article pledging both government and ethnic force commitment to cooperate on counter-narcotic efforts in cease-fire areas.
The agreements have also opened up areas previously inaccessible to government poppy eradication efforts. From September 2011 to January 2012, the government has reported eradication over 22,000 ha of opium poppy. This is triple the amount they reported eradicating in the entire previous growing season.