The Lao minister in charge of counter-narcotics asserted that lower-than-needed foreign assistance has forced ethnic people to go back to opium-growing, as opium prices keep rising.
Mr. Soubanh Srithirath, Minister to the President’s Office and Chairman of the National Narcotics Control and Supervision Commission, said that illegal opium growing still continues with a tendency to keep rising, despite Laos’ declaration that it has been opium-free since 2006.
Mr. Soubanh attributed the u-turn to decreasing foreign assistance, which has been less than what his country actually needs to fund its efforts to eradicate poverty among opium farmers.
In 2007, illegal opium cultivation has resurged covering more than 1,500 hectares and increased to more than 1,600 hectares in 2008, resulting in a surge of opium production from 9.2 tons in 2007 to over 9.6 tons in 2008. Consequently, the number of opium addicts among the ethnic groups also rose between 12,000 and 15,000, causing the price of opium to soar to 1,000dollars per kilogram from a base price of 100 dollars before. According to Mr. Soubanh, the rising price of opium is an encouraging factor for the ethnic groups to return to this illegal crop growing.
Since the declaration of its goal to be opium-free in 2006, the Lao government has consistently maintained that it needed foreign aids of no less than 80 million dollars to implement its many development projects, aimed at reducing the poverty of ethnic people in 10 northern provinces who have forgone opium growing. However, its assistance request has not been fully met.
For the period between 2009 and 2013, Laos has set a target for foreign assistance of no less than 60 million dollars for the development of projects to alleviate poverty in the areas covering 1,100 villages in 10 northern provinces, previously opium plantation areas that are at high risk of swinging back to this illegal crop.
Laos previously ranked third after Burma and Afghanistan as the world’s largest opium growers. Before 1985, villagers in10 northern provinces grew more than 30,000 hectares of opium poppies and produced more than 149 tons a year.
But thanks to foreign aids provided by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States to help reduce poverty in opium growing areas since 1986, more and more farmers stopped growing this illegal crops, eventually allowing Laos to declare itself an opium-free country by 2006.
Songrit reported in Lao and summarized in English. For more details in Lao, listen to our audio files.