Myanmar Declares War on Opium

By McCarton Ackerman 02/21/12

But the government's target of completely eliminating opium by 2014 sounds overambitious.

Opium yields $1000 per acre in Myanmar.
Photo via

Myanmar President Thein Sein has asked the international community for half a billion dollars in aid to help finance a program aiming to eradicate opium poppies and wean 256,000 households off poppy-growing over the next three years. Police, soldiers and villagers armed with sticks and weed-whackers have already destroyed over 52,000 acres of poppy fields since September, preventing 30 tons of heroin from hitting the global market. "Every year the international community spends millions of dollars [on anti-narcotics initiatives] in countries like Afghanistan and Colombia, and the outcome is not satisfactory," says Sit Aye, senior legal adviser to President Thein Sein. "Here, with international assistance, we guarantee to wipe out the opium problem by 2014." However, the strategy could be crippling for families who depend on poppy growing to survive. The opium yield from an acre of Myanmar poppy is $1,000. One third of Myanmar's 60 million citizens live on $1 per day, and alternative crops can't be grown until the rains come in June or July. The UNODC has also estimated that poppy cultivation will rise about 10% between 2011 and 2012, suggesting that Myanmar's three-year eradication target is unrealistic with or without foreign aid.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.