The international war on drugs continues to rage, with opium poppies extending a slow but steady comeback trend dating back to 2006.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that the cultivation of opium poppy, which is consumed as either opium or heroin, has consistently been on the rise since a relative nadir in 2006. In Thailand, Laos and Myanmar—once known as the “Golden Triangle” of opium production—cultivation of the illicit crop has doubled since then.
South East Asia was once the largest supplier of opium until it was passed by Afghanistan in 2003, which continues to be far and away the world’s largest cultivator and producer. Afghanistan’s rich soil and flat, irrigated terrain allows yields per acre to be much higher. Myanmar contributed almost a quarter of worldwide opium poppy cultivation in 2011, but crops there have a smaller yield, and as a result Afghanistan produced more than 80 percent of the world’s opium.
According to the UNODC report, most poppy cultivation in South East Asia happens on “steep hills with poor soil and no irrigation facilities,” which hints at the reason for growing the crop: poverty. In Thailand, 60 percent of interviewed farmers said they grew poppy in order to buy food. And while opiates like heroin and opium are a 65 billion dollar industry worldwide, very little of that money flows back to the growers. Nevertheless, the incentive remains.
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