Opium poppy farmers from Myanmar attending an international conference on “prohibited plants” have rejected a ban on growing their crops and urged an end to forced eradication.
“We reject prohibition and the war on drugs,” small-scale farmers from 14 countries, including Myanmar, said in a joint statement at the end of a Global Forum of Prohibited Plant Producers held in Heemskerk, the Netherlands, that was organised by advocacy group Transnational Institute (TNI).
Participants rejected outright prohibition and asserted their right to cultivate coca, cannabis and opium poppies for cultural, medical and religious reasons. Conclusions from the conference stressed that forced eradication of the crops went against human rights and caused major economic and social problems.
“The prohibition of coca, cannabis and opium poppy generates conflicts, as the people that grow them are criminalised, their human and cultural rights are violated, they are discriminated against and legally prosecuted,” their statement said.
Regulation of coca, cannabis and opium production via international treaties interferes with above-board or traditional usage, it said.
An opium farmer from Myanmar who attended the growers’ conference extolled the crop’s value as a curative, according to TNI.
“We use opium as a medicine against coughing and dysentery, and [to] cure animals,” he said. “It is good to use after being bitten by a poisonous snake.”
Myanmar’s nine-member delegation included farmers from opium-growing areas of Kachin, Kayah and Shan states. One male poppy farmer spoke out against eradication, saying, “Those who come to destroy our poppy fields should put themselves in the place of the farmers. How would you feel if your livelihood was destroyed? They should ask themselves what support they have given us before they came,” he said.
“Income from opium is our main livelihood. Without it we cannot survive.”
The farmers said that, in their experience, alternative development programs had largely failed to improve the livelihoods of those living in affected communities.
The forum’s conclusions are to be submitted to a UN General Assembly Special Session, to be held in New York in April, which will discuss all aspects of global drug control policies.
Participants expressed support for efforts to end wars in Myanmar and Colombia but called for a more inclusive peace process.
Myanmar is the world’s second-largest producer of opium after Afghanistan, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The UNODC’s Southeast Asian Opium Survey for 2015 estimated that up to 170,000 Myanmar households grew poppy. In 2015, some 13,450 hectares of opium poppy were eradicated while 55,500 hectares produced opium, much of which goes into the production of heroin.
“Poppy is clearly cultivated for economic reasons, with an average of 46 percent of the headmen of poppy-growing villages reporting that farmers cultivate opium in order to make more – or easy – income, while 40 percent specified that farmers do not cultivate opium to make more money per se, but rather to be able to cover family expenses as a result of poverty or lack of ‘livelihood assistance’,” the UNODC said.