Ukan Nang Ati, a farmer from the Pao tribe in a remote village called Kyaukka Chan once cultivated poppies that are processed into opium paste and refined into heroin. However, soldiers destroyed the poppy fields in Shan State, leaving him with potatoes and tea leaves as their source of income, news report from Bloomberg said.
“Two-thirds of the people in this area don’t grow food to eat for the whole year, so they are dependent on growing poppy to get this money to buy food,” Jason Eligh, Myanmar manager for the United Nations drug office, said, quoted from CBS news. When you eliminate the poppy, many will be put in a situation where they have no money, barely any food to eat and consume.
He added that poppy field workers will earn around 5,000 kyat ($6) a day, while a person who works in a rice paddy will make 1,000 kyat, maybe 1,500.Ethnic minorities in the Shan State have been relying on drug money to fund their insurgencies, the report said.
China, Myanmar’s biggest trading partner, is a “huge” market for opiates, which are refined into heroin along Myanmar’s eastern borders, according to Eligh. The Shan State has been the biggest and largest domestic opium producer.
“The government is getting serious on the issue of opium poppy cultivation and the consequence that it has in the region and in the country,” said Gary Lewis, regional director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
The fight to eradicate drug production by 2014 in KyaukKa Chan isn’t realistic, according to Guillaume Foliot, deputy country director for the UN World Food Program, which is providing Ukan Nang Ati and others with free bags of rice to compensate for their loss of income.
To highlight Myanmar’s commitment to addressing the drug problem, the government says it destroyed 23,584 hectares of poppy since 2011, three times the amount in 2010, according to data.