Laos’ Ongoing Efforts Towards Opium-Free Future Show Promising Results

Lao Gov. Supports 47,000 With Crops to Replace Opium Poppies
FILE: a field of opium poppy (photo: wallpaperflare)

Local authorities and police in several northern provinces of Laos have intensified efforts to combat illicit drug cultivation by eradicating opium poppy fields discovered within local communities.

In a recent operation on 7 February, authorities from the Office of Narcotics Inspection and Control in Houaphanh Province uprooted poppy plants spread across a five-hectare area in the Namyi region of the Xamneua district. The individuals involved were reportedly residents of the neighboring Aed district.

Following the intervention, law enforcement officials filed a report and counseled the landowner on the illegality of opium poppy cultivation and the associated hazards of opium use. Warning notices were issued to the landowners, outlining the regulations prohibiting poppy cultivation and aimed at curbing the drug trade in Huaphan province, according to local media sources.

In a separate incident, a collaborative effort between officers from the Department of Drug Inspection and Control and local police in the Phoukoud district of Xieng Khouang province resulted in the eradication of poppy fields spanning an 11,000-square-meter plot in the Phouxeo area.

Similarly, officials from the Luang Namtha Police Department dismantled opium poppy plants covering 2,950 square meters of land in Namkhoun village, Luang Namtha district. In an effort to address the underlying issues,  local authorities are promoting alternative crops and livestock farming to provide sustainable income sources for villagers affected by the eradication of poppy fields.

Despite the challenges, Laos has made progress in reducing opium cultivation through strict measures and partnerships with international organizations for alternative projects, ensuring food security, environmental conservation, and livelihoods for farmers across the region.

Last year, the Lao government partnered with private companies to spearhead programs promoting the cultivation of commercial crops as substitutes for illicit opium poppy farming. Engaging over 54 companies, this scheme provided training and employment opportunities to locals, benefiting nearly 47,446 families in the region.

Laos is now moving towards becoming opium-free, with minimal cultivation remaining. A survey conducted between July 2021 and March 2023 across nine northern provinces identified 4,493 illegal poppy fields, of which 1,437 were subsequently eradicated through concerted efforts by authorities.

Looking back to 1998, Laos has come a long way. Back then, the country harvested nearly 27,000 hectares of opium poppy, ranking third globally after Afghanistan and Myanmar. Approximately half of this yield was consumed locally by 63,000 opiate users, contributing to one of the highest addiction rates in the world.

Today, as opium cultivation in the Golden Triangle region witnesses a notable surge, Laos stands in contrast, experiencing a steady decline in such illicit activities. This shift comes amidst Myanmar’s grappling with civil unrest, which has led to a significant escalation in opium production within its borders. Consequently, Myanmar has emerged as the foremost opium source, surpassing even Afghanistan in this dubious distinction.

Despite progress, additional issues remain to be addressed as Lao local authorities work on eradicating opium poppy fields and implementing alternative crops and livestock as replacements.