End the plight of Asia's poppy farmers

Published on 05 March 2009

Red and white opium poppies are back in colourful profusion once again, expanding across the mountainous landscapes of northern Laos after several years of intensive poppy eradication. Illicit cultivation is also on the rise in the Shan states of Burma. UN drug officials are alarmed that the effect of the global economic crisis on the value of cash crops is tempting impoverished hill farmers to return to growing the one crop that offers stable financial returns. [...] The wisdom and sustainability of UN's anti-opium strategy has been consistently challenged by NGOs, development workers and academics. Dr David Feingold, an anthropologist and expert on the Akha hill tribe says: "The opium eradication policy in Laos was both poorly conceived and poorly executed." Without viable alternatives, former opium farmers became destitute and dependent on emergency food aid from the UN's World Food Programme (WFP). Given that the UN millennium objectives are all about enhancing food security, the hastily implemented campaign against opium cultivation had achieved just the opposite.

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