Opium on the border

The Irrawaddy is carrying a short report on opium cultivation in Thailand. Apparently, some 320 acres of the crop have been destroyed by Thai officials since late 2006. The Thai authorities are concerned about an estimated 80 acres that they have yet to eradicate.

On the odd occasions that I have seen or heard of opium fields on the Thai side of the border they have always been small (or very small). The presumption tends to be that such small quantities are grown primarily for domestic consumption.

By way of contrast, The Irrawaddy reports that the total area of opium cultivation in Burma is more than 53,000 acres. That such a figure is even a ballpark estimate says a great deal about the Burmese government, the Shan State, the ceasefires, control and profit.

It also raises some more questions:

  • Without the opium crop in the Shan State would Burma have a better chance of being a peaceful, prosperous country?
  • Are efforts to eradicate opium from Burma a first step towards a better future or, simply, a waste of precious time and resources?
  • What can be learned from the northern Thai experience of opium cultivation and its criminalisation?

Thoughts from New Mandala readers with experience of northern Thailand or the Shan State are particularly welcome.