In the Kokang and Wa regions in northern Burma opium bans have ended over a century of poppy cultivation. The bans have had dramatic consequences for local communities. They depended on opium as a cash crop, to buy food, clothing, and medicines.
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The bans have driven poppy-growing communities into chronic poverty and have adversely affected their food security. Very few alternatives are being offered to households for their survival. The Kokang and Wa cease-fire groups have implemented these bans following international pressure, especially from neighbouring China. In return, they hope to gain international political recognition and aid to develop their impoverished and war-torn regions.
The Kokang and Wa authorities have been unable to provide alternative sources of income for ex-poppy farmers. Instead they have promoted Chinese invest-ment in monoplantations, especially in rubber. These projects have created many undesired effects and do not significantly profit the population.
The Burmese military government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has also been unwilling and unable to provide assistance. The international community has provided emergency aid through inter-national NGOs and UN agencies. However, current levels of support are insufficient, and need to be upgraded in order to provide sustainable alternatives for the population. The international community should not abandon former opium-growing communities in the Kokang and Wa regions at this critical time.
This paper is based upon interviews with 51 ex-poppy farmers in the Wa and Kokang regions in February and March 2009.
Conclusions & Recommendations
• The opium bans have driven communities into chronic poverty and have adversely affected their food security and access to health care and education.
• The Kokang and Wa authorities have promoted Chinese investment in mono-plantations, especially in rubber. These projects are unsustainable and do not significantly profit the population.
• Ex-poppy farmers mainly rely on casual labour and collecting Non-Timber Forest Products as alternative source of income.
• Current interventions by international NGOs and UN agencies are still limited in scale and can best be described as “emer-gency responses”.
• If the many challenges to achieving viable legal livelihoods in the Kokang and Wa regions are not addressed, the reductions in opium cultivation are unlikely to be sustainable.