Poppy still popular for farmers in remote kayah villages the myanmar times sugar cane cutter

It is a sign of good fortune for cash-strapped farmers who rely on these crops to feed their families. Ironically, the scent of the flowers also attracts trouble for the villagers during this season. Fortune comes with misery, after all.

Naively, farmers in lo-bar-kho village plant poppy for a living and contribute to the illicit drug trade in the mekong’s golden triangle region – myanmar, laos and thailand – which produces a quarter of the world’s opium crop. The government’s effort to educate people on the risks of poppy cultivation and to encourage farmers to switch to legitimate crops has failed in this remote area.

For 54-year-old farmer U win aung from lo-bar-kho village, planting other crops than poppy is not a lucrative business and does not generate sufficient income to support his family.

“I owned six acres of poppy fields.

One acre could produce four to five paitta of poppy oil (one paitta is about 1.6 kg). One paitta could get me about K800,000 to K900,000 in 2016-17,” said U win aung.Other crops

In 2012, the government launched a poppy substitution project in kayah state and provided free substitute crop seeds to local poppy field owners, but farmers did not receive any support from the government, he said.

Two years later, the police started to clean up poppy plantations in these villages which eventually led to a drastic drop in price of poppy oil – as low as K300,000 to K400,000 per paitta, he explained.

Most farmers were reluctant to plant substitute crops to replace poppy as it was not financially rewarding. For instance, revenue from one acre of poppy field was equivalent to five acres of sesame or corn plantation.

“my poppy fields were destroyed in 2016 but I did not get any support from the government. I mortgaged my house to invest in poppy field again and managed to recover the capital, and then I stopped planting this year,” he said.

Further compounding their woes is the so-called ‘poppy tax’ which they pay to the village headmen, who transfer the money to the police, militias or armed ethnic groups, thus only leaving one third of their income, while others are spent on taxes and wages.Poppy field

Another farmer, U htay hlaing from B-kane village, situated on the border of shan state, said that he had to pay K500,000 to each organisation for his five acres of poppy field.

“they have already set the tax amount and every village collects taxes from farmers to pay. Our villages pay about K5,000,000 to the military, armed groups and police every year” U htay hlaing said.

He said before switching to growing illicit crops, they grew corn, garlic, onions and potatoes on the hillsides where slash-and-burn farming is still commonly practiced, but these crops did not fetch good money and no buyers for their agriculture produce.

“we planted poppy all our lives and we heard that the government plans to substitute poppy with other crops. We can accept that but they have to pay to supports us. But we didn’t receive any kind of support and decided to plant poppy again,” U htay hlaing added.

“traders come to our homes to buy poppy oil and we don’t need to find markets, but for the other crops, there is no market.Other crops most of the traders are locals and they trade again near the thailand and china border,” he said.

According to the united nations office on drugs and crime (UNODC) survey, opium cultivation dipped in 2017 despite the government scaling back its poppy-eradication efforts.

To stop the growing of poppy the government signed a five-year opium replacement project with the UNODC, which was implemented in 2014, said loikaw district police chief kyaw htay.

“destroying poppy fields in this way is done every year to stop drug use, which harms people and the whole country, and it has been four years. Now poppy fields are very rare in kayah state,” he added.