Tag Archive: opium


The public policy debate on Afghan  opium is filled with simple narratives (i.e., it is mostly opium that fuels the insurgency, poppy farmers are wealthy) justified by simple metrics and responded to with simple solutions. The problem with simplicity, of course, is that it crowds out complexity and propels us toward ineffective and even counterproductive policies.

Much of the counternarcotics debate in Afghanistan focuses obsessively on cultivation numbers produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) annual opium survey, with annual changes in cultivated area used as indicators of policy success or failure. Yet such changes are the result of a range of factors, including price shifts, household perceptions of future food insecurity and larger market forces. They are therefore transient, not necessarily indicative of fundamental changes in the rural economy.

For instance, last year’s 22 percent reduction in national opium acreage was largely attributed to the distribution of wheat seed and fertilizer in Helmand Province, which by itself produces around half of Afghanistan’s opium. But this reduction was less the result of policies and programs than farmers‘ rational response to the changing relative prices of wheat and opium. Memories of high wheat prices and concerns over insecurity in central Helmand continue to shape planting decisions, highlighting the fact that farmers give greater priority to managing the risk of food insecurity than to maximizing profits. After all, one can’t eat opium poppy no matter what its price.

The addiction to annual cultivation numbers has similarly produced praise for the firm commitment and strong hand of the provincial governors in Balkh and Nangarhar, the two provinces most lauded for success in becoming „poppy free“ in 2008 (in 2009, some poppy cultivation resumed in Nangarhar). Yet short-term reductions brought about by coercion may not be sustainable, and the side effects include migration to Pakistan (with attendant risk of radicalization), increasing enlistment in the Afghan National Security Forces under duress, sales of household assets and incurring of debt—as well as the potential undermining of support for the national government, which was seen as the driving force behind the coercion.

Fieldwork done in the areas hardest hit by the opium ban in these two provinces reveals a widespread perception that the economic impact on the general population has been too severe and that the social „contract“ under which reductions have been made is breaking down. In fact, one could argue that coercive suppression of cultivation in areas where there are no other viable sources of income is leading to greater instability—and thereby establishing preconditions for increased cultivation. One needs only to look at recent insurgency penetration in a number of districts in Nangarhar to see what appears to be the failure of success.

Some of the narratives analysts use to justify an aggressive approach to opium poppy reduction, including the „nuclear option“ of aerial chemical spraying, are built on „faith-based“ policy and questionable data. Several years ago, for instance, a US military commander mentioned that the percentage of the insurgency funded by the opium trade was likely between 20 and 40 percent, although an „international expert“ had said that the percentage could reach 60 percent; within weeks, much of the media had discarded the caveats so that 60 percent became the number of record. In some counterinsurgency circles, the belief that only 10 percent of the population is directly engaged in cultivation legitimates coercive measures on the grounds that even the harshest approach will not alienate the majority of the population. Yet the figure is based on a flawed methodology, and it ignores both the multiplier effect of the created wealth as well as bonds of solidarity, by which communities will band together to resist outside threats to life and livelihoods.

Such arguments also tend to shift from year to year. In 2007, UNODC proclaimed that „opium cultivation is no longer associated with poverty—quite the opposite.“ But by 2009 it was saying that „opium remains a major source of income in one of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries. Farmers may grow it to stave off poverty…. Eradicate poverty, not just poppies.“

The past two years have brought a welcome respite from the eradication debate, in part because of the Obama administration’s focus on the interdiction of traffickers rather than the destruction of crops, and in part because the military has sensibly recognized that obliterating Afghan rural livelihoods does not win hearts and minds. Still, there are forces that remain committed to a more aggressive eradication strategy, and they may be revived if the number of hectares heads upward in key provinces. If this year’s opium figures show an increase in cultivation, brace yourself for lurid headlines, Congressional delegations and calls to abandon a failed policy.

Rather than constantly alternating between back-slapping and hand-wringing, in the discussion over counternarcotics we should keep in mind that the transition away from opium is a long-term process and that the annual ups and downs are somewhat irrelevant. We must recognize that one size will not fit all areas, and that we can’t simply view drugs as a „bad“ to be stomped out while ignoring the role they play at all levels of the political economy. Ironically, aspects of the opium economy have contributed to stability and development by generating financial flows that have, in turn, been used to fund other licit economic activities, while counternarcotics policies have destabilized areas by forcing households deeper into poverty and by undermining political arrangements.

Above all else, acknowledging that drugs are a part of the rural economy and social structure in the distressed environment of a country wracked by decades of war and violence will allow us to focus on governance, security and economic growth—which will facilitate a slow but steady transition out of opium rather than spending on stovepiped, single-season interventions.

Source: http://www.thenation.com/article/157630/addicted-numbers

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SHAN STATE, 13 January 2011 (IRIN) – Poverty and lucrative profits make poppy cultivation increasingly attractive to farmers who would otherwise produce legal crops to feed their families and make a living, say experts.

„More of the rural poor continue to be drawn into participating in the illicit drug trade as a last means of finding money to feed their families,“ Jason Eligh, Country Representative for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Myanmar, told IRIN.

Shan State, 400km north of the capital, Yangon, between Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, produces more than 90 percent of all opium in Myanmar, an estimated 35,000 tons in 2010, according to UNODC.

UNODC is the only international agency directly involved in supporting different crops in poppy cultivation areas, with three agriculture projects in southern Shan State trying to reach 100,000 people. However, much more needs to be done to stop farmers from reverting to opium production, said Eligh.

„UNODC wants to see a strong alternative development response, one that includes market access, community mobilization, access to credit, improved technology and better overall infrastructure in rural areas.“

Cash crop

In 2010, a higher proportion of farmers‘ income came from poppies than in previous years, reversing a trend of steady decline in the past six years.

Between 2003 and 2009, the proportion of total household income from poppies fell from 70 to 20 percent, according to a December 2010 UNODC report.

In 2010, however, high prices paid for poppy in Myanmar and low food security throughout the country meant income from the seed contributed to 43 percent of total household income in Shan State, the report stated. About a quarter of the state’s population was involved, estimate aid agencies.

Though prices at source (farm-gate) for poppy fell marginally in 2010 from 2009, opium overall remained lucrative at US$305 per kilo. Poppy farmers can earn 13 times more money cultivating poppies than rice, making poppies the cash crop of choice for most, based on the UNODC report.

Farmers forced out of poppy cultivation are having problems growing other food to survive. „I grow enough vegetables to keep my family going, but that is all,“ U Tin Kyi told IRIN.

U Tin Kyi grew poppy seeds to supplement his income until authorities destroyed his fields two years ago. Like many of his neighbours in this hilltop village, U Tin Kyi has little extra income. „The fuel cost to get to the market outweighs any profit I would make from selling vegetables,“ he told IRIN.

Eradication efforts

Poppy cultivation continued to rise in Myanmar in 2010, despite an official 15-year drug elimination plan developed in the late 1990s. In 2009, the authorities initiated the final five-year phase of this plan.

Government figures claim 8,268 hectares of poppy-cultivating land were eradicated in 2010, a 102 percent increase on the previous year.

But other groups calculate that Myanmar’s poppy cultivation area and yield actually increased during this period.

„In 2010 we estimate that there [was] 20 percent more area under opium poppy cultivation, a 46 percent increase in average opium yield, and a 17 percent increase in the number of households involved in domestic opium poppy cultivation,“ said Eligh of UNODC.

In northern Shan State, in 2008, government figures showed 25 percent of poppy fields were destroyed, but a 2010 report by Palaung Women’s Organization (PWO), an NGO based in Mae Sot along the Thai-Myanmar border, stated only 11 percent of poppy fields had been eradicated.

Government anti-drug teams were only destroying easily visible poppy fields and filing false eradication data to the police headquarters, the report said. At the same time, farmers were forced to pay taxes to continue growing poppies.

In Mantong village in northern Shan State, PWO estimated the government collected approximately $37,000 in poppy taxes in 2008.

source: http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=91614

DUBAI (AlArabiya.net)Reports of secret hangings and mass executions in Iranian prisons raised concerns among human rights groups about undeclared abuses committed in the world’s second biggest executioner after China.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI), an NGO based in New York and the Netherlands, sounded alarm bells over undeclared executions, many taking place in groups, carried out at the Vakilabad Prison in the eastern city of Mashhad, the UAE daily The National reported Sunday.

According to the ICHRI’s statement, based on the testimony of former prison inmates, prisoners are in many cases executed in groups and the last mass execution took place on October 12 when ten prisoners were executed together. A former inmate told the ICHRI that he was witness to 46 executions in one day in October 2009.

According to Ahmad Ghabel, a religious scholar who spent three months at Vakilabad Prison earlier this year, at least 50 executions took place during his detention.

Ghabel, who was released on bail then detained again for speaking about Vakilabad executions in public, said the government does not release accurate figures of hangings and never acknowledges secret executions to avoid international outrage.

More than 600 inmates are currently awaiting execution in various Iranian prisons mainly for drug trafficking. The city of Mashhad is a major smuggling hub for heroin coming from Afghanistan.

Executions on the rise

We are concerned that if these executions are, in fact, taking place in Mashad, then are other prisons executing in secret also 

ICHRI spokesman Aaron Rhodes

Testimonies by former inmates indicate that the numbers of executions in Iran double from last year’s figure, said ICHRI spokesman Aaron Rhodes.

“We are concerned that if these executions are, in fact, taking place in Mashad, then are other prisons executing in secrecy also?” he said in a phone interview from Hamburg, Germany.

“The authorities are trying to curb these problems by using extreme punishments, which violate Iranian and international law, in an increasingly brutal policy of intimidation.”

Similar testimonies by Iran former Vakilabad prisoners and their families have been investigated by Amnesty International (AI). Although the findings are not yet completed, AI experts argue that reports of secret executions are true.

“We regard these allegations as credible,” said Drewery Dyke, a London-based expert on Iran in an interview.

According to analysts, the surge in execution rates reflects hardliners’ dominance in Iran’s judiciary. Imposing the capital punishment has also been recently accompanied by a rise in the use of torture in Iran’s prisons.

Statements by Iranian judges serve to highlight the growing tendency towards violent punishments. A few days ago, Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s deputy judiciary chief praised the recent amputation of a thief’s hand as a “divine punishment” and “source of pride.”

A senior analyst in Tehran, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that new judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani, contrary to his predecessor, does not promote the reduction of executions especially in drug offences.

Secretive procedures

According to the ICHRI report, executions are carried out in the most secretive manner. The majority of prisoners get to know they would be executed only a few hours before. Neither their families nor their lawyers are notified and prison phone lines are disconnected in order to avoid leaks.

Under Iranian law, families of prisoners are to be informed of the time of the execution in order to visit the prisoner or be present at the hanging.

Names of the condemned are announced over a microphone after making sure prisoners are inside their cells then prisoners to be executed are taken from their cells to write their wills and undergo a religious cleansing ritual.

After the execution, the prison notifies the deceased’s family and they are allowed to retrieve the body after paying for the rope used in the hanging, a former prisoner told ICHRI.

The stance of the Iranian authorities towards secret executions, observers argue, is quite ambivalent. While information about executions is treated as highly confidential, the regime does not mind occasional leaks that they believe have a deterring effect.

Death penalty and drugs

According to multiple accounts, the majority of inmates on death row were convicted for narcotics-related crimes 

ICHRI statement

In Iran, offences punishable by death include murder, rape, drug trafficking, armed robbery, adultery, treason, and espionage and the capital punishment is seen by the authorities as essential for preserving national security.

“According to multiple accounts, the majority of inmates on death row were convicted for narcotics-related crimes,” said the ICHRI. “Some reported that they were tortured and forced to make confessions, but that trial judges ignored their claims of physical coercion.”

Despite government claims to the contrary, human rights groups say that prisoners accused of drug offences are detained for a long time before the trial, allowed limited access to lawyers, and subjected to physical abuse.

Drug trafficking ranks first amongst Iran’s capital offences and clashes between security officers and more than 3,500 officers were killed in the past two decades in clashes with drug smugglers on the border with Afghanistan.

Iran is believed to have the world’s highest addiction to opium and heroin, which are usually available in cheap prices after failing to reach Europe from Afghanistan. Analysts argue that unemployment and social problems contribute to the rise in addiction rates.

At least 388 were executed last year, which makes Iran the world’s second in executions after China. In 2005, the year President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumed power, the number did not exceed 85.

The production of opium — the raw material for heroin and a major source of revenue for the Taliban insurgency — has halved in Afghanistan due to crop infection this year, but prices have tripled, a UN report released on Thursday said. The sharp drop in output is largely due to bad weather and a plant infection hitting the major poppy-crop growing provinces of Helmand and Kandahar particularly hard, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.

“As a result of the damage, yield fell 48 per cent to 29.2 kilograms per hectare, from 56.1 kilograms per hectare compared with the previous year,” it said.

The report said the area of land under poppy cultivation remained stable in 2010 at 123,000 hectares.

Some 98 per cent of the all opium poppy was cultivated in nine provinces in the country’s western and southern regions, it said, adding, “Helmand and Kandahar took the lion’s share with Helmand alone accounting for 53 per cent of total opium cultivation in Afghanistan.” The two provinces, where Taliban are most active, are the focus of a US military surge this year, with the bulk of 30,000 extra US troops moved to Afghanistan this year deployed to Helmand and Kandahar.

“These regions are dominated by insurgency and organized crime networks,” UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov said in a statement.

“This underscores the link between opium poppy cultivation and insecurity in Afghanistan, a trend we have observed since 2007.” Taliban militants are believed to fund their insurgency against the Afghan government and the 150,000 US and NATO troops by collecting tax from opium money.

Fedotov cautioned against “false optimism” because of the drop in production, saying the rising price for opium might make the market again lucrative for growers.

In 2010, the average farm-gate price of dry opium at harvest time was recorded at USD 169 per kilogram, a 164-per-cent increase over 2009, when the price was USD 64 per kilogram, the report found.

The rising prices could also prompt former poppy farmers to think twice about having switched to wheat, an important alternative crop in Afghanistan, Fedotov said.

He said also that any meaningful fight against Afghan opium production would also require the international community to curb demand in the region and western countries. “As long as demand drives this market, there will always be another farmer to replace one we convince to stop cultivating, and another trafficker to replace one we catch.” Afghanistan supplies more than 90 per cent of the world’s opium.

Thursday’s report said that the forced eradication programme led by the government was at its lowest level this year. Afghan forces eradicated 2,316 hectares of poppy crops, more than half of them in Helmand province.

NATO has also stepped up its targeting of opium convoys and traffickers, arresting dozens of suspects and seizing thousands of tons of the illicit drug.

On Wednesday, Baz Mohammed Ahmadi, the deputy interior minister, said nearly 8 tons of opium, heroin and hashish had been seized by Afghan forces in the past six months.

Drug economics in Burma’s new political order

The regime’s biggest threat for the past half-century, besides Aung San Suu Kyi, has been rebel armies from various ethnic groups. For decades the regime has worked to increase its presence in these rural areas by building paramilitary allies in hostile regions. The local militias suppress rebel activities in exchange for the freedom to produce and transport drugs with full military co-operation. As the military brokered more deals, its obsession with power quickly took precedence over its war on drugs. Now the regime is more powerful than ever, due to a survival strategy that is largely subsidised by Burma’s multi-billion-dollar drug trade. Perry Santanachote examines that trade, the people who benefit from it and cover it up, the victims and those caught in between.

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MYANMAR, LWE SAN SONE RANGE : A Myanmar soldier, holding his machine gun, displays to foreign journalists opium poppies 15 January 2000 during the destruction of an opium field near the notorious Golden Triangle. Fifty thousands villagers will be uprooted from their homes in this lucrative opium area to be relocated in an unprecedented mass migration project designed to crippled heroin production. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel DUNAND

Welcome to Shan State: land of the drug lords

Aung Min, like many in Rangoon, grew up poor. He enlisted in the Burmese army in 1999 at the age of 18 with ambitions that he would one day join the ranks of his commanding officers. By 2003 he was a second lieutenant stationed in Laukkaing Township in Shan State and led a group of 20 men – his pockets filled reliably with drug money.

Opium production has been an economical lynchpin in eastern Shan State since the late 1940s when military leaders refused to honour the Panglong Agreement that granted autonomy to ethnic states. Rebel armies grew as their drug trade took over the region, and then the world. Shan warlord Khun Sa dominated Southeast Asia’s infamous Golden Triangle with his heroin enterprise through the 1980s and 1990s. By 1995, the Golden Triangle, the mountainous region where Burma, Laos and Thailand meet, became the world’s leader in opium production. His 30-year revolutionary war ended in 1996 but heroin continues to flow out of the state, albeit at a lower rate, with a new breed of drug lords.

Despite acknowledgement by the US State Department that poppy cultivation in Burma today is less than 20 per cent of what it was in the mid-1990s, it’s still an annual multi-billion-dollar business. Burma remains the world’s second-largest opium producer after Afghanistan, and processed 330 metric tonnes, or 17 per cent, of last year’s world supply, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2010 World Drug Report. Poppy cultivation has also been on a steady incline for the past three years.

Other pages in the report show that Burma is also Asia’s largest producer of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), which include methamphetamine, distributed in the form of the cheap and chemically dirty pills, most commonly known in Thailand and the region as ya baa (crazy drug); and the more expensive and cleaner crystalline form known as Ice. Burmese production of methamphetamine coincided with reduced opium production, but producers did not necessarily switch over.

“There has been more production last year when it comes to stimulants because of the increased involvement by the junta-backed militia groups,” Khun Seng, an editor at the independent media and research group Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), said. “When the militia groups support the political aspirations of the junta they are also supported by the junta in their drug activities.”

“And if you’re the drug boss,” he added. “You’ll do anything that’ll bring in money. If I’m producing more meth it is because of the market – the buyers. Right now, for two years in a row, opium production has been down so there is less production of heroin than in other years, that’s all. They are not intentionally switching from heroin production to meth production.”

Pornthep Eamprapai, director of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board in Chiang Mai, said heroin and opium production was down because of climatic conditions and drought, not because of eradication. “Meth” quickly filled that gap in recent years, he said, because consumer demand in Thailand is high due to economic and social instability. Thais are becoming addicted to ya baa at an alarming rate, while they were never too keen on heroin.

“Making meth is so much easier too,” Pornthep said. “Cooking up meth or Ice doesn’t require any crop.”

Another big difference between today’s drug trade and that of the Khun Sa era, is that it is now increasingly controlled by the government. Former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt engineered a series of ceasefires with major drug-producing militias in 2003-2004 and incorporated them into the economy and constitutional process, creating an environment conducive to drug production and collusion between military personnel and drug traffickers. The regime has been suspected of involvement in the drug trade in the past but never at the level seen today.

In the past decade, the military regime has prioritised keeping it under wraps and making it appear as though it has waged a war on drugs. In 1999 the military inducted a 15-year drug-eradication programme, made lofty promises to the international community to crack down on trafficking, publicised some token drug busts and even opened an anti-drug museum. But these acts were all sleight of hand – an illusion to placate the international community. Although, they may have worked.

The UNODC commended the junta for its “considerable decrease in the area under cultivation and a strong decline in potential opium production” in its Opium Poppy Cultivation Report last year and budgeted US$7.7 million for the eradication programme between 2004 to 2007.

“It’s just another attempt to get the international community to pay for ordinary development programmes instead of using the state budget for that purpose,” said Chiang Mai-based author Bertil Lintner, who chronicled the history of Burma’s heroin warlords in his book, Burma In Revolt, and more recently the multi-billion-dollar methamphetamine trade in Merchants of Madness: The Methamphetamine Explosion in the Golden Triangle.

“And most of the UNODC’s programmes are just that – ordinary development programmes that have little or nothing to do with drug eradication,” Lintner said.

Pornthep says the Thai government gives Burma 20 million baht (US$625,000) annually every year for opium eradication.

“Their [Burma’s] government isn’t doing enough because they don’t have the resources,” he said. “Therefore they need co-operation and aid from other countries.”

Eleven years later, drug lords continue to operate with impunity and the Burmese Army remains closely involved in the lucrative opium economy, using it as leverage against ceasefire armies. As its deadline approaches, Burma is nowhere near being a drug-free nation. Only 13 townships of the targeted 51 can claim to be poppy-free, while the others are still growing, according to the 2009 Shan Drug Watch Report.

Military culture: a paradigm shift

In 2003 Aung Min was riding high on drug “taxes” collected from traffickers that crossed into his command area, but one day he arrested and executed 15 traffickers, seized their heroin and sold it on the Chinese black market for 200 million Kyats (US $200,000), 20 times more than he would make in a year of tax collecting.

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MYANMAR, LOWI SOI : A poppy sticks out among others in this poppy-field outside the village of Lowi Soi, in Myanmar’s Northern Shan state, close to the Chinese border, 26 February. This is in one of the few opium growing settlements in the region which the government says has escaped its anti-drug campaign. Myanmar authorities took some delegates from the Interpol Fourth International Heroin Conference and journalists to see the results of its anti-opium campaign which won an endorsement from the world police body. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel DUNAND …

Military intelligence investigated Aung Min shortly after the incident when his foot soldiers were seen suddenly adorned in gold jewellery and he had made a considerable transaction to his mother in the middle of Burma’s banking crisis that had left several banks bankrupt and the Kyat inflated beyond repair. That red flag landed him 15 years in prison. However, the crime he committed was not really the problem; it was the spectacle that got him in trouble.

“Military officers’ involvement in drug trafficking is very common, particularly in Shan State. Even the killing,” said an ex-army captain and friend of Aung Min. “It’s rare that they are arrested. Aung Min was inexperienced so he didn’t know how to be low-profile.”

The former officer divulged Aung Min’s story on condition of anonymity. He left the army last year after 10 years of service and now lives across the border in northern Thailand. He went through three years of officer intake with Aung Min and said they were close friends. The last time they saw each other was on October 7, 2002.

“He was very honest – a simple man,” he said. “I was surprised when I found out. I think it was due to the environment because he was assigned to this area and this kind of bribing, taking money, dealing drugs – this might have changed him.”

Many Burmese soldiers survive on revenues collected from extortion fees because their salaries are meagre and the government has cut off their rations. Today, a private earns about 16,000 Kyats a month, a sergeant earns 35,000 to 40,000 Kyats, while a major general earns 800,000 Kyats.

“The army capacity is also declining: the fighting capacity, military capacity, administration capacity, organising capacity. It’s all due to mismanagement,” he said. “While at the top level they’re getting more benefits and becoming wealthier.”
The ex-army captain explained that battalions had been cut down, but they still had the same amount of work. Faced with the challenge, they had to get creative and make deals with traffickers instead of trying to fight them.

“We can’t fight Karen rebels with 120 soldiers. It’s like 120 people with the duties of 500,” he said.

In 2005, headquarters ordered him to set fire to 180 homes in a Karen village in Kanasoepin Village, Thandaung Township.

“My superiors asked the villagers to forcibly relocate to a designated area. They wanted to control them and destroy the village so they couldn’t communicate with rebels,” he said. “I had to get an agreement with the village head to set up three houses only, document and report to regional command. This way it’d be win-win.”

In this incidence, “win-win” was not bribery, it was security. He only had 18 soldiers with him that day, in an area he referred to as “the black area” where Karen rebels are active.

“If we burned down the village, the Karen rebels would have attacked us,” he said. At that point, he realised he wanted out of the army. “I didn’t want to live with that stress anymore – to deal with that anymore.”

He said there were no official orders to bribe opium farmers or traffickers, but that it had become a major component of military culture. Everyone takes bribes and the money goes all the way up the chain until it eventually reaches Senior General Than Shwe. Officers stress that discretion is key because of the military’s appearance of reform. If a soldier’s actions threaten to expose their role in the drug trade, he will suffer the same fate as Aung Min.

Aung Min’s story illustrates the military’s deep involvement in the drug trade – a complete contradiction to the image it has projected to the world.

Appearances deceptive

A favoured tactic of the regime in its delusive fight against drugs is the highly publicised heroin eradication programme, which the ex-officer explained is set up.

There would be orders from the regional command centre to cut off poppy at a plantation, he said. The authorities would call the farmers and village leader before heading out and telling them to prepare the crop. Upon arrival the farmers would show the soldiers the unusable poppy plants, made so by the plants’ inability to produce the seeds required to make heroin. The soldiers would slash these and leave the good ones intact. Then they would document the eradication with photographs and bonfires. Afterwards, the soldiers collect 10 million Kyats from the village head. This process is repeated every three months.

The Palaung Women’s Organisation (PWO), an NGO based in Mae Sot, Thailand, found in its 2009 report, Poisoned Hills, that only 11 per cent of poppy fields had been destroyed the previous season, mostly in areas visible to the UN’s satellite monitors. The police reports they obtained claimed that 25 per cent of fields were destroyed.

More “taxes” are collected in the trafficking process too. The ex-army captain explained that regional commanders communicate with ceasefire group leaders and issue passes to place on the narcotics cargo trucks so that they are exempt from searches at checkpoints. There are 13 regional commanders throughout the state. About three of them: the Eastern, the Northeastern and Triangle commanders are active in the drug trade. Prime Minister Thein Sein is a prime example of the power these regional commanders hold, as he was the Triangle Regional Commander in 2001 and dealt with Shan warlords on a regular basis before his promotion in 2007.

‘Politically correct’ drug trade

“In my 10 years in the army there’s been an increase in drugs, trafficking, bribes and this kind of involvement,” said the ex-army captain.
The escalation in drug activities is partly caused by the growing number of militia and ceasefire groups.

“Before the army got an agreement with the ceasefire groups they fought against the rebels and weren’t involved in drug trafficking because they were not friends, they were enemies,” said the former captain. “After the ceasefire they had to get money from them for sustainability.”

Today there is an estimated 17 ceasefire agreements with the country’s ethnic rebel groups. The number of active militia groups is unknown, but the SHAN received junta documents that revealed 396 in the Northeastern command alone. In the run up to this year’s election, the military has increased pressure on ceasefire groups to join its Border Guard Force. Those that concede and support the junta’s political ambitions are awarded with military support in their drug activities. SHAN editor Khun Seng said that the junta party needs canvassers that have influence in their respective communities.

“Those who are most influential are involved in the drug trade, especially the militia leaders,” he said. “These people will take advantage of the situation.”

Khun Seng said that as an extra incentive, each militia group was now assigned an operational area where they could do whatever they want without disruption.

“If you are ‘politically correct’, you can do anything in Burma,” he said.

As an example he described this year’s Armed Forces Day in Burma.

“The commander [Colonel Khin Maung Soe] in Tachilek spoke on the sidelines to the militia leaders, ‘This is your golden opportunity. My only advice is that you send your products across the border, but not on this [Burma’s] side’,” Khun Seng said.

PWO’s investigation corroborated SHAN’s accounts that more drugs were indeed coming out of militia-run areas. It reported that opium cultivation increased over 200 per cent in Mantong and Namkham townships in Shan State, both areas controlled by the government. During the 2008-2009 season, the acreage found by PWO for only these two townships, out of the total 23 townships in Northern Shan State, was nearly three times (4,545 hectares) the total recorded by UNODC for all 23 townships combined. The UNODC reported a 100 per cent increase in that same time period in all of Northern Shan State, from 800 hectares to 1,600 hectares.

Both SHAN and PWO have criticised the UNODC’s methodology, which relies on data reported by the junta’s (State Peace and Development Council, SPDC) eradication reports and satellite imagery without proper verification.

The ONCB in Thailand also acquires its Burma drug data from the SPDC.

“For the most part we exchange data with them with good communication and understanding,” Pornthep said. “There has been no lying on their part and their data can be backed up. For instance, the figures for poppy cultivation are the same as the UNODC, the US and China.

“We never meet with the NGOs in Burma,” he added. “We only communicate with the government and narcotic police.”

Seizures mean little

Khun Seng also disputed a statement in the UNODC World Drug Report that attributed the increase in methamphetimine production to ethnic insurgencies in Shan State readying to fight the SPDC by selling more drugs to purchase arms.

“The Kokang and Wa are producing at the normal rate, no more, no less. The increase is due to the involvement of the militia groups, he said. “Now with the Wa and Kokang, these people can produce but they can’t transport without the co-operation of the militia groups. If they do it by themselves they are caught.”

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MYANMAR, LWE SAN SONE RANGE : A Myanmar soldier walks in between two poppy flowers while destroying opium poppies 15 January 2000 during a narcotics crop destruction in Lwe San Sone Range. Myanmar soldiers and tribes people destroyed acres of poppy plantations in Shan State, one of the world’s largest opium growing area, as part of a broader campaign by Myanmar authorities to eradicate the narcotics trade in their country. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel DUNAND

Which explains the number of seized drugs in Burma. UNODC Regional Representative Gary Lewis stated at the release of the 2010 World Drug Report in Bangkok, that 23 million methamphetamine pills were seized in Burma last year, from one million in 2008. Lewis said the numbers likely reflect a surge in production, rather than crime prevention.

Khun Seng agreed that more seizures meant more production, but said that was only part of the picture. The military was particular about where the seizures came from. That is, when the seizures were not fabricated. Militia-produced drugs almost always made it across the border, he said.

The Kokang, a ceasefire group well known for drug production and trafficking along the Sino-Burmese border, were recently attacked by the SPDC for their refusal to join the Border Guard Force and all their drugs were seized. The regime long turned a blind eye to the Kokang’s drug operations and even publicised the area as a “drug-free zone” after its eradication campaign, but in August last year, this all changed and the regime announced a massive seizure of drugs in the Kokang area, while driving more than 37,000 refugees into China.

Several large shipments of methamphetamine, believed to have originated from the United Wa State Army (UWSA), were also recently seized in Tachilek near the Thailand border.

“Seizures are irrelevant and are made only when the authorities want to put pressure on, for instance, the UWSA, for political and security reasons,” Lintner said.

The UWSA, armed with 30,000 soldiers, is the largest ceasefire group to reject the junta’s proposal to become part of the Border Guard Force and the military has turned up the heat as the election approaches. Much of the seized drugs last year are believed to have come from the Kokang and Wa – seizures that would never have happened in the past.

“Proceeds from the drug trade were always a major source of income for several rebel armies in Burma, before and after the ceasefires,” Lintner said. “But the Burmese government and the UNODC chose to turn a blind eye to the traffic as long as the ceasefire groups were on good terms with the government. Now, when some of the ceasefire armies are resisting the government’s demands that they transform their respective armies into Border Guard Forces, they are suddenly being accused of trading in drugs, which they have always done.”

Even with the drastic surge in methamphetamine seizures, the World Drug Report noted that seizures continued to remain very low in Burma. Despite being the second-largest producer of heroin in the world, only one per cent of worldwide heroin interception was seized in Burma in 2008. Similarly, of the 32 million tablets seized in East and Southeast Asia in 2008, only about three per cent, or 1.1 million, were seized in Burma.

The report also states that the number of tablets and the amount precursor chemicals seized in Burma jumped last year, when the SPDC entered by force parts of north and eastern Shan State not under their control.

The new political order

The new drug economy that the SPDC has built in Burma will only worsen as the regime’s crusade for power and control intensifies in the run-up to the election. Lintner anticipates the drug trade will eclipse what was seen in the 1990s.

“In 1990, only opium was produced, and the derivative heroin,” he said. “The production increased dramatically in the 1990s, and now is back to what it was 20 years ago. Plus methamphetamines, which were unknown in the Burmese sector of the Golden Triangle 20 years ago.”

In 1997, then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright knew all too well where Burma’s drug trade would lead when she aptly stated, “Drug traffickers who once spent their days leading mule trains down jungle tracks are now leading lights in Burma’s new market economy and leading figures in its new political order.”

source: http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/4218-drug-economics-in-burmas-new-political-order.html

For years, there has been much discussion about the best strategy to rid Afghanistan of its poppies. Eradication, said the George W Bush administration. Interdiction and alternative livelihoods, retorted the Barack Obama administration. Licensing and production for medicinal purposes, suggests the influential Senlis Council.

The issues have been fiercely debated: Would there be enough demand for Afghanistan’s legal morphine? Is the government too corrupt to implement this or that scheme? To what extent will eradication alienate farmers? Which crops should we substitute for poppies?

These questions are not unimportant, but fundamentally, they do not address the primary source of Afghan drug production: the
West’s (and Russia’s) insatiable demand for drugs.

Afghanistan accounts for about 90% of global illicit opium production. Western Europe and Russia are its two largest markets in terms of quantities consumed and market value (the United States is not an important market for Afghan opiates, importing the drugs from Latin America instead). Western Europe (26%) and Russia (21%) together consume almost half (47%) the heroin produced in the world, with four countries accounting for 60% of the European market: the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Germany.

In economic terms, the world’s opiates market is valued at $65 billion, of which heroin accounts for $55 billion. Nearly half of the overall opiate market value is accounted for by Europe (some $20 billion) and Russia ($13 billion). Iran is also a large consumer of opium, with smaller amounts of heroin. The situation is similar for cocaine, for which the US and Europe are the two dominant markets (virtually all coca cultivation takes place in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia).

In short, it is the West that has a drug problem, not producer countries like Afghanistan (or Colombia): demand is king and drives the global industry.

How should we reduce opiate consumption and its negative consequences in the West and Russia? Drug policy research has typically offered four methods. There is a wide consensus among researchers that such methods should be ranked as follows, from most to least effective: 1) treatment of addicts, 2) prevention, 3) enforcement, and 4) overseas operations in producer countries. For example, 12 established analysts reached the following conclusions, published a few months ago:

Efforts by wealthy countries to curtail cultivation of drug-producing plants in poor countries have not reduced aggregate drug supply or use in downstream markets, and probably never will … it will fail even if current efforts are multiplied many times over.

A substantial expansion of [treatment] services, particularly for people dependent on opiates, is likely to produce the broadest range of benefits … yet, most societies invest in these services at a low level.

Also, a widely cited 1994 RAND study concluded that targeting “source countries” is 23 times less cost effective than “treatment” for addicts domestically, the most effective method; “interdiction” was estimated to be 11 times less cost effective and “domestic enforcement” seven times. The problem is that the West’s drug policy strategy has for years emphasized enforcement, combined to overseas adventures, to the detriment of treatment and prevention. Also, Russia has been complaining about the suspension of eradication in Afghanistan, but it has a very poor record of offering treatment to its own addicts, rejecting widely accepted scientific evidence. Moscow has chosen a strategy that “serves the end of social control and enforcement,” just like the US: criminalization is emphasized and the largest share of public resources is directed to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate drug users, instead of offering them treatment. This worsens Russia’s HIV epidemic, the fastest growing in the world – with nearly one million HIV infections, some 80% of which related to the sharing of drug needles – while syringe availability remains very limited. For instance, methadone and buprenorphine remain prohibited by law in Russia, even if they are effective in reducing the drug problem by shifting addicts from illegal opiates to safer, legal alternatives. Accordingly, a just released New York University report states that “Nothing that happens in Afghanistan, for good or ill, would affect the Russian drug problem nearly as much as the adoption of methadone” in Russia – which would also help Afghanistan reduce poppy cultivation. Obama announced last year that the US would have access to seven military bases in Colombia under the pretext of fighting a war on terror and a war on drugs. Likewise, Russia recently announced that it would set up a second military base in Kyrgyzstan, to combat drug trafficking. Victor Ivanov, the Director of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, explained how he was inspired by US drug war tactics in Latin America:

The United States‘ experience is certainly quite effective. The powerful flow of cocaine from Colombia into the United States prompted Washington to set up seven military bases in the Latin American nation in question. The US then used aircraft to destroy some 230,000 hectares of coca plantations … Russia suggests building its military base in Kyrgyzstan since it is the republic’s Osh region that is a center of sorts whence drugs are channeled throughout Central Asia.

Europe’s record on drug policy has improved over the last two decades, important advances having been made to bring harm reduction into the mainstream of drug policy, and rates of drug usage for each category of drugs are lower in the European Union (EU) than in states with a far more criminalized drug policy, such as the US, Canada and Australia. But there is still room for improvement. For example, although opioid substitution treatment and needle and syringe exchange programs now reach more addicts, “important differences between [European] countries continue to exist in scale and coverage”, a recent review of harm reduction policies in Europe concludes. In particular, “Overall provision of substitution treatment in the Baltic States and the central and south-east European regions, except in Slovenia, remains low despite some recent increases. An estimate from Estonia suggests that only 5% of heroin users in the four major urban centers are covered by substitution programs, and that this rate is as low as 1% at national level.“ Lack of funds is no excuse, as there is plenty of money available, for instance, out of the $300 billion Europeans spend every year on their militaries, to maintain among other things their more than 30,000 troops in Afghanistan. The UK was put in charge of counter-narcotics in Afghanistan. However, domestically, leading specialists Peter Reuter and Alex Stevens report that “Despite rhetorical commitments to the rebalancing of drug policy spending towards treatment… the bulk of public expenditure continues to be devoted to criminal justice measures… this emphasis on enforcement in drug control expenditures also holds for the most explicitly harm reduction-oriented country, the Netherlands.“ In the UK, over 1994-2005, “the number of prison cell years handed out in annual sentences has tripled“ (although significant increases have also been made towards treatment). “The prison population has increased rapidly in the past decade [and] the use of imprisonment has increased even more rapidly for drug offenders than other offenders… These increases have contributed significantly to the current prison overcrowding crisis.“ British enforcement costs taxpayers dearly, but the government does not regularly or publicly calculate those costs. Through a Freedom of Information request a document was released that “calculated the annual cost of enforcing drug laws – including police, probation, prison and court costs – at approximately ฃ2.19 billion, of which about ฃ581 million was spent on imprisoning drug offenders.“ All this said, there is one way in which Afghanistan does have a drug problem, namely, its increasing number of addicts. A recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that drug use had increased dramatically over the last few years and that around one million Afghans now suffer from drug addiction, or 8% of the population – twice the global average. Since 2005, the number of regular opium users in Afghanistan has grown from 150,000 to 230,000 (a 53% increase) and for heroin, from 50,000 to 120,000 (a 140% increase). This spreads HIV/AIDS because most injecting drug users share needles. But treatment resources are very deficient. Only about 10% of addicts have ever received treatment, meaning that about 700,000 are left without it, which prompted UNODC chief Antonio Maria Costa to call for much greater resources for drug prevention and treatment in the country. The problem is that the Obama and Bush administrations could not care less: since 2005, the US has allocated less than $18 million to “demand reduction” activities in Afghanistan – less than 1% of the $2 billion they spent on eradication and interdiction. Clearly, US priorities have nothing to do with fighting a war on drugs.

source: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LG01Df02.html

Chemical Warfare

The war on the Afghan heroin trade is having some success, with opium production down 22 percent last year. There has also been more attention paid to opium smuggling, as this is a major concern for Pakistan (and its several million opium addicts). Iran has put more troops on their border, for the same reason, and made it more difficult to get opium into the country. The drug gangs have responded by converting more of their opium into heroin and morphine. But that requires more imports of industrial chemicals for the conversion.

Heroin is much less bulky than opium, and easier to smuggle. As a more expensive drug, it finds most of its users in more affluent areas (like the Persian Gulf, Europe and North America). If you can get the needed chemicals, the math works in your favor. Ten tons of opium (worth about $45 a pound) can be refined into  1.3 tons of heroin (worth about $1,600 a pound).

This conversion requires 2.6 tons of acetic anhydride, an industrial chemical. This is a clear liquid that is flammable and poisonous if you inhale it. There is no legal use for acetic anhydride inside Afghanistan. With bribes and transportation costs, the drug gangs pay about $2,000 per ton to get it to Pakistan. Then it has to be smuggled into Afghanistan, by truck. There are a limited number of roads, with the border manned by guards who are accustomed to being bribed. There are several other chemicals needed to refine the opium (to morphine, then to heroin), but acetic anhydride is the hardest to get, and the one needed in the largest quantities. Smaller quantities of hydrochloric acid are also needed, but this is a more common industrial chemical.

Pakistan drove the heroin trade out in the 1990s, in part, by interfering with the supply of acetic anhydride. While there was a market for opium, it was mainly local, and the large amount of opium available drove the price down. The real money was in heroin, where smaller, more valuable amounts, were easier to move out of the country to more lucrative foreign markets.

Now, consider how heroin fits into the worldwide drug market. The most widely used drug is actually marijuana (and it’s refined version, hashish). There are about 170 million users of these products worldwide. Many live in rural areas where marijuana grows wild and legal restrictions are not energetically enforced. But in many urban areas, marijuana is a major source of income for gangsters, and some terrorist groups. Not as profitable as cocaine and heroin, and harder to smuggle (because of the bulk), but it is still a major threat because it has such a large market.

More debilitating drugs like heroin and cocaine are more expensive, more potent and have less than 20 percent of the market of marijuana and hashish. Cocaine and heroin are more likely to disable users, including much higher risk of accidental death. The 30 million cocaine or heroin users (about 60 percent of them prefer the less debilitating cocaine) are actually dwarfed by the slightly larger number of addicts for synthetic drugs (everything from methamphetamine to Ecstasy and especially prescription drugs).

But cocaine and heroin come from farm crops (coca for cocaine, poppies for heroin) that are very profitable for poor farmers in places like the South American highlands (coca) or Central Asia (Afghanistan at the moment). In both these places, the illegal crops account for the majority of the supply for that illegal drug on the planet. In the case of cocaine, the drug is largely produced by gangsters, with some help from political outlaws (mostly leftist groups). There is some terrorism, but it is all local.

The big danger is the heroin trade, where Islamic terrorists have partnered with tribe based drug gangs to produce most of the world’s heroin. This sort of thing is nothing new. For decades after World War II, most of the heroin came   from the remote Burma (now Myanmar)-China border area, where the drug gangs could afford to raise and equip private armies. But both of those nations eventually cracked down on that business, and it moved to Pakistan for a while, but was forced, by a violent government reaction, across the border into Afghanistan. In both earlier cases, controlling the supply of acetic anhydride played a major role in crushing the heroin trade.

The Afghan government is reluctant to shut down the heroin trade, partly because many senior government officials are being bribed, and partly because it would cause more tribal warfare (most of the tribes oppose the heroin trade, and only a few of the Pushtun tribes in the south control most of the heroin production). Moreover, there is the likelihood that the poppy growing and heroin production would just move to another Central Asian nation. The Islamic terrorists would follow. So the problem really is to crush, or otherwise neutralize, the Taliban, al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals who are sustaining their violence via drug profits. The Taliban earns $50-100 million a year from helping protect the drug gangs.

It is interesting that the two major illegal drugs are both produced in small regions, areas that are dominated by outlaw armies and a general absence of law and order. Cocaine is largely from Colombia, where the drug gangs and their political allies (the leftist FARC) almost brought the government to its knees, before politicians, and most of the population rose up and fought back. In Afghanistan, NATO and U.S. commanders have finally convinced their governments to go after the money; the heroin trade.

That means manufacturers and distributors of acetic anhydride have been under scrutiny, and pressure to control the supply of the chemical entering Afghanistan, for nearly a decade. The smugglers have been very resourceful, using bribes and threats to get past government restrictions. The chemical enters Afghanistan from all neighboring countries, except Iran (which has a small army of incorruptible troops on the border trying to keep out the opium and heroin.) The acetic anhydride is often bought in Europe or Russia, labeled as some other product, and sent on its way to Pakistan or one of the Central Asian neighbors of Afghanistan, where bribes or threats are used to get it into southern Afghanistan, where the processing labs are. This smuggling network is now under major attack. Russia is determined to control their growing addiction problem by keeping the smugglers (who bring drugs out and chemicals out) away from the border. But all this effort is crippled by the corruption and lawless nature of the border area. The example of Colombia shows that you can fight back. But it’s not easy, and progress is slow.

ps. the so called „Islamic Terror Groups“ are founded by the US./UK. Secret  Service!

The annual United Nations World Drug report on world drug consumption by region provides some interesting intriguing data on global heroin consumption, but a little math sheds some much needed light on the numbers.

Heroin use is declining in the United States, but rising in Europe, according to the latest report, which noted that European users smoke or inject about 25 percent of the 340 metric tons of heroin consumed worldwide each year.

U.N. officials said that cultivation of opium, the compound used to make heroin, has decreased 13 percent in the last year, to 657 tons.

Especially high demand for heroin, and also for cocaine, in Western European countries such as the UK, Italy and France, has led to the emergence of new trafficking routes in West Africa, the report states.

The Regional Breakdown for Heroin Consumption:

  • Europe – 26% at 88 metric tons
  • Russia – 21% at 70 metric tons
  • China – 13% at 45 metric tons
  • Africa – 7% at 24 metric tons
  • U.S.A. & Canada – 6% at 21 metric tons
  • Pakistan – 6% at 21 metric tons
  • India – 5% at 17 metric tons
  • Southeast Asia – 5% at 17 metric tons
  • Iran – 5% at 17 metric tons

Looks like Europe is the biggest overall consumer of heroin, but which region or country has the biggest heroin problem per capita?

The Math:
Russia’s 141,927,297 people consume 70 metric tons or 70,000 kilos, for a total of .000493 kilos per person. Russia’s per capita heroin consumption is nearly double that of Iran, the runner-up. Iran’s 72,000,000 people consume 17 metric tons or 17,000 kilos, for a total of .000236 kilos per person.

Europe comes in third for global heroin use per capita. Europe’s 710 million people consume 88 metric tons or 88,000 kilos, for a total of .000123 kilos per person.

Pakistan ties Europe for third place in overall per capita heroin use. Pakistan’s 169,869,000 people consume 21 metric tons or 21,000 kilos, for a total of .000123 kilos per person.

Per capita heroin use falls off sharply among the U.S., Canada, and other countries that make up the top ten global heroin consumers. U.S.A. & Canada’s 341 million people consume 21 metric tons or 21,000 kilos, for a total of .000061 kilos per person. China’s 1,324,655,000 people consume 45 metric tons or 45,000 kilos, for a total of 0.0000339 kilos per person.

Africa’s 840 million people consume 24 metric tons or 24,000 kilos, for a total of .0000285 kilos per person. Southeast Asia 593,000,000 people consume 17 metric tons or 17,000 kilos, for a total of .0000286 kilos per person. India 1,182,500,000 people consume 17 metric tons or 17,000 kilos, for a total of .0000143 kilos per person.

See the U.N.’s breakdown of the world’s heroin and other drug consumption by geographical region, here.
For more info: UN

source:http://www.examiner.com/x-8543-SF-Health-News-Examiner~y2010m6d28-Who-uses-most-of-the-worlds-heroin

KABUL – Antonia Maria Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), last month informed the world that Afghanistan’s expected opium harvest for the 2010 season will be three-quarters of last year’s output – a substantial reduction of 2,600 tonnes. Afghanistan produces over 90% of the world’s illicit supply of opiates, the key ingredient of heroin, and has produced more than 6,000 tonnes of opium a year since 2006.

A ravaging naturally occurring blight exacerbated by climatic conditions is behind this season’s failed harvest, according to UN forensic findings. In the case of Kandahar, Helmand and Urozgan provinces, which collectively produced 80% of the total amount of opium in Afghanistan last year, the blight was further spread by aphids, small plant-eating bugs that can carry fungi and viruses.

The UN estimates that up to 50% of Afghanistan’s opium crops
have been affected. Following Costa’s announcement, Taliban insurgents and angry farmers in southern Afghanistan were quick to blame international forces for „aerial spraying“ their fields to disrupt this year’s harvest. Farmers claim unconfirmed spraying of their fields has also sickened livestock, children and hurt production of legal crops like fruit and nut trees. The UN, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and US officials deny the claims.

Taliban insurgents, who have a high influence throughout the south, have already started exploiting the spray theory, with statements to the local population blaming international forces for spraying unknown chemicals over southern Afghanistan. „The people believe that this disease is sprayed by ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] onto the crops,“ a source in Helmand province told Asia Times Online. “Farmers claim to have some evidence, saying ‚when we get up early in the morning after a night’s sleep, we have seen some white powder-like residue in our fields and even in our homes which are near the field‘.“

Anecdotal claims of usage of chemicals also have been made in neighboring Uruzgan province. „There are strong rumors among the people that foreign forces sprayed drugs with a virus from the air onto their poppy fields,“ Murad, a resident of Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan province, said. “Some of them say that they have found white material that looks like poppy seeds, but there is not clear evidence.”

The Taliban’s insistence on ISAF involvement and claims by farmers have been galvanized by a previous UNODC program funded by the United States that sought to „weaponize“ fusarium oxysporum, a plant fungus capable of devouring coca bushes, poppy fields and marijuana plants.

Uzbekistan served as the test-bed for the project although at least two Central Asian states refused to participate, opting to manually eradicate their poppy fields, and the project was ultimately terminated in 2002 without the fungus ever being used. Efforts to deploy the virus to South America were blocked by Colombia and Peru and even the United States prohibited aerial dispersal of the fungal agent against marijuana fields in the state of Florida following warnings from scientists that the fungus could mutate into a hardier-strain capable of attacking non-targeted crops and livestock.

The Taliban-perpetuated propaganda machine, however, is having an impact among conspiracy minded communities in southern Afghanistan who are adamant that international forces are responsible for the destruction of their crops.

A much less nefarious culprit may bear ultimate responsibility for the wide-scale destruction of the opium poppies: Mother Nature. Although the UNODC is currently testing samples from the badly damaged opium crop, physical evidence points to a fungus, possibly macrosporium papaverus, a blight that causes root and capsule rot, resulting in little to no opium latex for extraction by farmers.

Enyathullah, a landlord from Arghandab district of Kandahar province, shed light on the decrease in opium production in Kandahar. „Farmers used to receive 140 kilograms of opium while they now yield 14 kg from the same land,“ he said. Countering Taliban claims of a conspiracy, Enyathullah supports the physical evidence that the poppy blight is natural occurring. „Last year, pomegranates were affected by a virus; whereas this year, poppy plants suffer from such problem. A limited number of farmers cultivated opium in Arghandab last year since it was very costly to pay high bribes to the police, bear very low prices of opium, and deal with increasing raids by local security forces,“ said Enyathullah.

The poppy plant blight has already hurt general markets and businesses in Kandahar city because the income of farmers from the poppy fields has been slashed, he said. The several highly destructive funguses, viral diseases and forms of blight that affect poppy plants can be exacerbated by excessive moisture, high humidity and overly watered poppy crops. For example, pleospora calvescens, a type of leaf blight harmful to poppy varieties, is worse in times of heavy rainfall or high humidity.

„Beginning in early March, the temperature range between day and night was substantially high so it caused dew in the field. Although dew is good for poppy plants during maturation, this year the increase in dew and high temperature during the day coupled with low temperatures during the night at the growing and blooming stage caused an aphid infestation,“ a source from Helmand familiar with poppy cultivation explained to Asia Times Online. „This aphid infestation causes different problems for different crops, and this year it came late in the season so it helped destroy large plots of poppy crops in southern Afghanistan.“

Costa of the UNODC told participants at an anti-drug forum held in Moscow on June 9 that Afghanistan was entering its third year of substantial decrease in opium output. „This downward trend will continue in 2010 but for a different reason: a natural occurring blight, or plant disease. The same amount of hectares was cultivated as last year but with a drastically different opium output. The blight is caused by a known fungus that has been recorded in Afghanistan over the past 35 years.“

International forces in Afghanistan have adopted a less aggressive opium poppy eradication campaign in favor of increased focus on interdiction and disrupting drug-processing workshops. Widespread destruction will create a new cycle of indebtedness for farmers, raising tensions between rural communities and the Afghan government, and has drastically driven up prices for opium. Opium prices have surged to nearly $115-125 per kilogram from a stable US$25-$35 in some areas.

„The price of opium has gone up because every farmer thinks that this year the opium production was low, so they keep their opium and do not sell it because they hope that the prices will go up,“ Ahmad Jawed, a resident from Helmand province, told Asia Times Online.

„I heard that the opium price is around 65,000 [US$720] to 75,000 Pakistani rupees per seven kilograms, right now. But it was around 10,000-25,000 Pakistani rupees. The quality of the opium is important regarding the price,“ Murad told Asia Times Online.

The UNODC estimates that upwards of 12,000 tonnes of opium are currently in storage and held by a collection of farmers, drug traffickers and insurgents. The soaring prices of raw opium will lead to windfall profits for those wealthy enough to hold onto their caches and sell at times they can make most profit.

The underwhelming 2010 opium harvest will likely lead to farmers planting more in hopes of a bumper crop next year, boosting the profits that anti-government groups like the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami make from taxing the cultivation and trafficking of narcotics. Rising profits will also threaten the success of the UNODC-sponsored poppy-free province initiative that gives incentives to provinces that wipe out their illicit opium production. Currently 17 of the country’s 34 provinces are poppy-free, a decrease of three from last year, according to UNODC statistics.

Despite the Barack Obama administration’s overhaul of the Afghan war effort beginning last year, little if any meaningful commitment has been made toward curbing the industrial-scale production of narcotics in Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, the UNODC released a long-awaited Afghan cannabis survey that confirmed suspicions that Afghanistan is now the world’s number one producer of two illicit narcotics: opiates and cannabis resin, known better as hashish. Gross misunderstanding of the narcotics problem plaguing Afghanistan has festered for almost nine years under the international community’s watch. The problem has soared to epidemic proportions, causing a tidal wave of legal, health, economic and security problems from Southwest Asia to Europe.

Although corruption has been identified by the ISAF and the US as a bigger challenge than the insurgency in Afghanistan, little has been done to recognize the source of this corruption: the entrenched narco-economy and its penetration of the Afghan state.

Russian government officials have been quick to criticize the ISAF and the US for failure to tackle the burgeoning drug trade as each year an estimated 30,000 Russian youths perish from overdosing on heroin that originated in Afghanistan.

„How are we supposed to take on the drug trade when Afghan government officials cannot explain where the bulk of international financial assistance is and how it was spent?“ asked Rudik Iskujin, head of the Group on Cooperation between the Federation Council of the Russian Federation and the National Assembly of Afghanistan. „Nearly 50% of the international financial aid [given to Afghanistan] is processed by Afghan government entities. The sad fact is only 2% of international monetary assistance is visible by Afghan government entities.“

As thousands of international and Afghan security forces prepare to pacify large swathes of Taliban-occupied and Taliban-influenced territory throughout southern Afghanistan this summer, Afghan farmers will be preparing for a possible record-breaking opium poppy planting season beginning in mid-September, 2010.

The invariably harmful effects of the drug industry on governance, stability and its perversion of the local economy will continue to haunt the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan and thwart progress toward a stable and self-sustaining state until the problem is finally recognized as a key source of the current political and economic instability.

Matthew DuPee and Ahmad Waheed are research associates at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. Matthew is an Afghan specialist who focuses on the Southwestern Asia narcotics industry. Ahmad was awarded the J William Fulbright Scholarship and received his master’s degree in international policy studies, with a specialization in international development, at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

source: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LF22Df03.html

Raw Opium

The opium poppy is botanically classified as Papaver somniferum. The genus is named from the Greek noun for a poppy, the species from the Latin word meaning ’sleep inducing‘: it was Linnaeus, the father of botany, who first classified it in his book Genera Plantarum in 1753. Like many of his contemporaries, and generations before him, he was well aware of its capabilities.

The plant has a dubious history. Some horticulturists consider it evolved naturally, but there are others who claim it is a cultivor developed by century upon century of careful human cultivation. Another theory is that it is a naturally mutated plant which evolved because of a quirk of climate or altitude. This is not far-fetched for plants will take on atypical forms in unique conditions: the cannabis trees of Bhutan prove the point. No one can be certain.

Although there is no positive proof, it is thought P. somniferum may have evolved, or been generated, either from the wild poppy, Papaver setigerum, which contains small amounts of opium and which indigenously grows throughout the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, or from a poppy native to Asia Minor.

To many not specifically engaged in its cultivation, the poppy is either an ornamental flower with a delicate beauty or a simple, scarlet blossom growing wild in the cereal fields of Europe, an image for the blood spilled in the trenches of the First World War. In fact, it comes from a large botanical family of 28 genera and over 250 individual species, most of which grow in the temperate and sub-tropical regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Many popular varieties have been specifically cultivated: the bush and tree poppies, the Welsh poppy, the blue and Syrian tulip poppies, the alpine poppy, the sub-arctic Iceland poppy, the Californian poppy. Even the opium poppy itself may be found in borders and displays in well-kept gardens, albeit illegally in most countries. In its wild state, the poppy is a single bloom but double flowers and specialist blooms with serrated and fringed petals have also been bred in a multitude of colours: the most exquisite are two variations of the opium poppy, the Pink Chiffon and the Paeony-flowered Mixed. Several species, such as the Oriental poppy from Asia Minor, are perennials.

Of all these species, only P. somniferum and P. bracteatum produce opium in any significant amount, although the latter is not used at present as a commercial drug source but is sometimes grown as decorative blossom from which a number of hybrids have derived.

Papaver somniferum is an annual with a growth cycle of approximately 120 days. It requires a rich, well-cultivated soil and, in the wild, is more likely to flourish in recently dug or ploughed ground, hence its presence in farm fields and, traditionally, by cart tracks and animal droves. The best growing climate is temperate, warm with low humidity and not too much rainfall during early growth. Ideally, although it will grow in clay or sandy clay, the best soil is a sandy loam which retains nutrients and moisture and is not too hard for the delicate early roots to penetrate. Both excessive and insufficient rainfall affect growth: too much moisture causes waterlogging and, if the soil is not properly drained, the plants will quickly die whilst dull, cloudy weather or excessive rain in days thirty to ninety of the growth period will reduce the opium-producing capabilities. Sunlight is especially important. The opium poppy is a ‚long day‘ photo-responsive plant which means it will not produce blooms unless it has grown through a period of long days and short nights, preferably with direct sunlight at least twelve hours daily.

These requirements aside, the plant is easy to grow. It does not require irrigation unless it is in danger of drying out, demands no expensive fertilisers, has few pests or ailments and, therefore, requires no insecticides or fungicides.

The seeds (about the size of a pin-head) are naturally sown by the pod blowing in the breeze and shaking like a pepper-pot, the contents scattering. When deliberately set, they are either broadcast or dropped in rows of shallow holes made by a stick or dibber, the timing of the sowing depending heavily upon local seasonal and climatic conditions. About 500 grams of seed are sown to half a hectare. The seeds may range over a wide variety of colours from white through yellow to brown, grey or black, the coloration not being relevant to the eventual blossom. Other cash crops, such as beans, peas or tobacco, may be planted alongside the poppy: these do not hinder it and are usually only a means of obtaining a higher return from the same area of land.

The seeds germinate quickly in warm, moist conditions and, within six weeks, the plant is established by which time it vaguely resembles a young cabbage with glaucous, green leaves with a dull grey or bluish tint. By eight weeks, it reaches a height of about 60 centimetres and consists of a main stem the upper portion of which (the peduncle) bears no leaves or secondary stems. Below the peduncle, secondary stems (called tillers) may appear from leaf bases where they join the main stem. Apart from the peduncle, the stems are frequently covered with hairs.

As the plant matures, it grows to a height of between 90 and 150 centimetres, the leaves appearing alternately, those on the main stem being oblong, tooth-edged and between 10 and 40 centimetres long. The main stem and each tiller ends in a single flower bud. As these develop, the ends of the peduncle and tillers extend and bend over to form a distinctive hook shape, the young buds suspended upside down. However, as the buds mature the stems straighten, the main bud at the head of the peduncle pointing upwards. Within two days of becoming vertical, the sepals of the bud – which are the same colour as the leaves – open and the flower blooms. In ideal conditions, the main blossom appears around the ninetieth day from germination.

At first, it appears crumpled, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, but the four petals quickly expand and smoothen, each marginally overlapping the other. Their colour may vary from plant to plant. Traditionally, opium poppies are white but they may just as readily be pink crimson, weakly purple or a variegation of these with the colour darker at the petal base. Inside the flower is a ring of anthers on top of what will become the pod. Fertilisation is carried out by insects.

The flower is short-lived. In two to four days the petals drop, exposing a small, round pod the size of a large pea. This rapidly grows and may become ovoid or globular: when mature, it is the size of a small hen’s egg with a diameter of between 5 and 7.5 centimetres. It is bluish green with a slightly waxy appearance, the top surrounded by a small crown from which the stigmas rise. Where the pod joins the peduncle is a ring of petal base scars.

The pod is made of an outer skin enclosing the wall of the ovary, which is made up of three layers, and cavities or segments separated by seed-producing walls. The seeds, of which one pod may produce over 1000, are reniform in shape with distinct reticulations. When mature, they are loose in the pod before dispersal through small holes which open just under the crown.

The opium poppy has two main products: one, the seeds, is quite innocuous whilst the other, opium, is infamously insidious.

The word ‚opium‘ is misleading, implying the substance is a single chemical compound whereas it is an elaborate cocktail containing sugars, proteins, ammonia, latex, gums, plant wax, fats, sulphuric and lactic acids, water, meconic acid and a wide range of alkaloids. The significant parts are the alkaloids.

An alkaloid is a highly complex organic base (an alkali) with the common characteristic properties of containing nitrogen, of being basic and forming salts and water with acids, found in plants and having a characteristically bitter taste. Over fifty have been identified in opium, the most important being morphine (from which heroin can be made noscapine, papaverine, codeine and thebaine. They appear partially or loosely chemically bonded to meconic acid, the presence of which can be used as a test to detect opium.

In its raw state, opium is the dried latex or juice of the seed pod which is also known as the capsule, bulb or poppy-head. It is an opaque, milky sap which, although found throughout the plant, concentrates the active ingredients in the pod.

Until recently, it was unknown how the poppy manufactured such a complex chemical as an alkaloid. It is now accepted that the substances are actually created in the lactifers (cells which produce the latex), possibly from the synthesis of albumen: the mechanism, however, is still undiscovered. Furthermore, opium is only produced during a ten-to-twelve-day period when the pod is ripening. Once it has reached maturity, the alkaloids are no longer made and are broken down in time.

Why the plant goes through such a process is unknown. Theories abound. One suggests the alkaloids are essential to the formation of the seeds. Another proposes they are a form of deterrent against animal pests. The most intriguing propounds that the plant has developed opium simply to ensure humans maintain it in cultivation, an elaborate and incredibly ingenious example of symbiosis.

Harvesting opium is an exhausting, back-breaking and labour-intensive process which can really only be done by hand and requires knowledge, experience and dexterity. Little changed for centuries, it is obtained by tapping the individual pods.

The harvest begins about two weeks after the petals have dropped. The opium farmer first examines the pod and erect crown. By now, the pod will have lost its grey-green colour and darkened. If the points of the crown are standing straight out or curving upwards, the pod is ready. Not all the pods in a field will mature at the same time so the farmer has to keep a close daily eye on his whole crop over a period of some weeks.

Today, the tapping tool is generally a specialised knife consisting of a set of three or four parallel steel or glass blades mounted on a handle. This is run vertically over two or three sides of the pod. If the blades cut too deeply into the pod wall, the opium will flow too quickly and drip to the earth where it will be lost. Furthermore, deep incisions will cause it to weep internally and injure the pod, cutting off production will the lactifers and preventing the seeds from developing. The will then shrivel and die. If the cuts are too shallow, the flow be too slow and harden on the pod wall, sealing the cut like a scab. The ideal depth for a cut is 1-1.5 millimetres, achieved by setting the tapping knife blades.

The tapping (also known as scoring or lancing) is sometimes carried out in the late afternoon in the hope that the opium will ooze out overnight and coagulate slowly on the surface of the pod. If the tapping is carried out when the sun is still high, the heat of the sunlight can dry up the first sap to appear which then closes the wounds: however, in some countries, the collection of sap is done at midday, the sun’s heat actually encouraging the milky sap to trickle out.

When the opium first appears, it is a cloudy, white, fairly mobile substance but on contact with air it oxidises, turning into a dark brown, viscous substance, sticky to the touch with a distinctive delicate perfume. The opium, now a resinous gum, is carefully scraped from the pod with a short-handled blunt iron blade about 10 centimetres, long. In order to prevent the blade from becoming covered in gum, the farmer wets it between plants. Poppy growers working on licensed farms, where poppies are cultivated for the pharmaceutical industry, do this by dipping the blade in water, peasant farmers, who are the vast majority of the world’s poppy growers, often simply lick the blade. Needless to say, this addicts the farmers to their crop.

A pod will continue to secrete opium for some days and may be tapped up to half a dozen times. The opium yield varies according to the size of the pod and the efficiency of the farmer. The average is 50 milligrams per pod, a hectare of poppies providing, between 8 and 15 kilograms of raw opium.

The farmers work their way backwards across the fields, tapping lower mature pods before the taller ones so as not to spill the opium inadvertently. This is collected in a container hanging around the farmer’s waist. As they go, they mark the larger or more potent pods with coloured yarn. This directs the farmer to the pods on subsequent harvesting sessions and indicates which are eventually to be gathered in whole. These will be opened, dried in the sun and the seeds collected for the next season’s planting.

In gum form, raw opium contains a high percentage of water so it is sun-dried for several days until the mass is reduced by evaporation to a sticky, dark brown substance with a strong odour and the consistency of warmed beeswax. The freshness of raw opium is judged by its pliability: when fresh, it is putty-like. It is then beaten into an homogeneous mass and moulded into cakes, balls or blocks which can be stored for months, wrapped in plastic or leaves and stacked on shelves in a shady place. As it dries, it hardens. Excessive moisture or heat during drying or early storage will cause it to deteriorate but, once dried, it is stable and will gain in value for the older it is the less water it contains and the more concentrated it becomes by weight. In some cases, harvested pods are gathered and pulped in warm water which is then sieved and simmered over a fire, resulting in a poor quality opium which is not traded but may be retained by the farmer for personal use.

Raw opium, which is slightly granular, contains more than just the coagulated latex. In the scraping of the pod, pieces of the outer wall may be removed and up to 7 per cent by weight of raw opium may consist of extraneous plant matter. What is more, it can be deliberately adulterated by the farmer with sand, tree sap or ash, although a trained opium buyer can spot these tricks and few farmers dare resort to such chicanery.

Before the opium can be smoked or further processed, it has to be cooked. As traders usually prefer it somewhat improved from its rough state, cooking also prepares it for market.

The cooking is done by adding the raw opium to boiling water. It dissolves, any impurities such as pod fragments floating to the surface with heavier adulterates sinking to the bottom. The solution is passed through cheesecloth or a fine sieve to remove impurities then brought to the boil again and reduced. It is now a clean, brown, mobile fluid known as liquid opium. Very slowly, it is left to simmer until all that remains is a thick, brown paste known as prepared, cooked or smoking opium. This is pressed into moulds or trays and dried once more in the sun until it takes on the consistency of dense modelling clay which will harden as it matures. Much purer than raw opium, the cooked opium is now ready for the addict, the trader or the drug baron’s laboratories.

The remainder of the plant is not discarded. Once ripe, the seeds contain no dangerous substances whatsoever and are edible. Black, blue and grey seeds are frequently used as a decoration for cakes and bread whilst brown seeds are used in Turkey to make halva and to give the typical crunchiness to such traditional Turkish pastries as silgin boereghi and hashash coereghi. In India, yellow seeds are milled and added to sauces as flavouring or thickening agents.

Ripe poppy seeds yield about 50 per of a fixed oil made up of the glycerides of linolic, oleic, palmitic and stearic acids. Poppy seed oil has a straw-yellow colour, is odourless and tastes vaguely of almonds. It may be employed in cooking and as a salad dressing and it has been used as an adulterate of olive oil. Other uses are in the manufacture of perfumes and, because of its drying properties, as a base for expensive artists‘ oil paints.

In the nineteenth century, Turkish growers wasted little of the plant. Seeds were pressed to give both vegetable and lamp oil, the residual seed cake, stems and leaves being used as cattle fodder. This was historically an important factor in dairy produce, for cows fed on the detritus of poppies were said to provide the milk which made the finest yoghurt. Mixed with flour, the residuals also made a coarse bread. Seed was also sold to merchants in Smyrna who traded it on to Marseilles, where it was used in soap factories, whilst poppy heads were infused to make a traditional sedative drink.

Today, in most areas where the plant is commercially and legally grown, the opium producing stage is bypassed and the dried capsules, known as poppy straw, are milled and processed for the extraction of their alkaloids. Very large quantities of poppy straw have to be processed, but morphine, codeine and thebaine are recoverable. The seeds, which have almost as much value, are used in the food industry.

Although poppy straw morphine was extracted first in 1823 by a French chemist called Tilloy working in Dijon, it was not until 1928 that a factory was built when Janos Kabay, an Hungarian, developed a commercially feasible extraction process. During the Second World War, poppy straw processing began under German control as a source of opium during the Allied blockade. Since then, refinements to extraction techniques, and agricultural development have greatly increased yields, so that today more than 50 per cent of the world’s legal annual morphine demand of about 230 tonnes is derived from this source which, in some countries such as Australia, is a highly mechanised agricultural procedure.

The traditional growing, harvesting and preparation of opium however is and always has been essentially a peasant-farming activity, although there have been variations according to time and place. In Bengal, for example, it was customary to incise the pod with a sharpened mussel shell whilst elsewhere the extruded juice was placed upon a lower leaf of the plant to dry, a practice which lingers in parts of Afghanistan. However, from the late eighteenth century and with the expansion in world trade promoted by Europeans, opium growing and production became in places a highly organised, efficient and lucrative industry.

In India in the nineteenth century, opium growing was far from being a peasant-run operation. Admittedly, smallholders produced the opium but it was sold through a structured market and was big business, employing tens of thousands of growers and workers, many of whom became habituated to the drug.

As a commercial commodity, opium was an extensive branch of Indian agriculture. Grown mostly on the Ganges plain between Patna and Benares (now known as Varanasi), it was a major revenue source for the Indian economy. Its importance is reflected in the substantial records compiled about the business which afford a fascinating glimpse of how the industry began in modern times.

Sown early in November, the crop was harvested from early February the following year. The tapping tool (known as a nushtur) was of similar design to that used today, whilst the collecting blade was an iron scoop (a sittooha) and the collecting vessel an earthenware pot called a kurrace. This was emptied into a shallow tilted brass dish (a thallee) which allowed the water content (pusseewah) to drain away. The raw opium was allowed to dry for several weeks, being turned and stirred daily, before being stored in clay pots in godowns, or warehouses. Once weighed, tested and valued, it was thrown into vast vats, kneaded and subsequently pressed into spheres the size of small cannon balls.

This process was an important part of opium manufacture. The factory hands sat in rows in the godown, each man in front of a tagar, a tin vessel holding enough opium to make three to five balls. A basin containing water, a supply of poppy flower petals, a cup of lewah (inferior opium) and a brass cup in which the ball was shaped made up the rest of a worker’s equipment.

Taking the cup, the worker placed a petal in the base and smeared it with lewah. Another petal was added overlapping the first until the receptacle was lined by opium-soaked petals. An opium ball was rolled and placed in the cup so the dome protruding from the top was the same size as that contained by the vessel. This was then covered in poppy petals and lewah, the petals at the rim carefully interwoven to make a seal. When completed, the ball was about 15 centimetres in diameter and covered in a shell of petals. It weighed about 1.5 kilograms.

Once the ball was formed, it was placed on lattice-work racks in a drying room, a warehouse with open ends to allow the wind to pass through. Checked and turned daily by small boys, who ensured no insects were damaging the opium, it was kept until sufficiently dry then packed into mango-wood chests with two fitted trays, each chest containing forty balls in individual compartments, twenty to a tray. The chests were sealed with pitch, sewn into gunny or hides and sent for trading or to market. In Ghazipur, the centre of India’s modern legal opium production system, some opium-making equipment a century old is still in use in technique which have not significantly changed for 200 years.

The size of the opium industry can be judged from contemporary accounts. The area under poppy cultivation in 1870 was 560,608 acres. In the financial year of 1871-72, the number of chests sold was 49,695 at a trade price of 139 [pounds sterling] each. The net profit per chest was 90 [pounds sterling]. The opium revenue came to 7,657,213 [pounds sterling]. At 1996 currency rates, equates to approximately 612 [pounds sterling] million or $950 million.

The product and the style of marketing varied from place to place. While Indian opium was sold in forty-ball chests in the nineteenth century, Turkish opium from Smyrna – upon which was based a speculative commodities market – was packed in grey calico bags in oblong wicker baskets, the strength and quality of the goods being measured in carats on a 1 to 24 unit scale like gold: under 20 carats, the standard was considered poor and the opium discarded. The opium was blackish-brown, waxy to the touch, wrapped in poppy leaves and sold in irregular, flattened oval cakes weighing between 250 gram and a kilogram. The surface of each was sprinkled with the winged seeds of a species of sorrel to prevent them from sticking together. When shipped, it was transported in hermetically sealed, zinc-lined wooden cases, each sufficiently large to take an entire basket.

An alternative Turkish opium from Constantinople was a redder brown and sold in small lens-shaped cakes covered with poppy leaves whilst Persian opium from Yezd and Isfahan, where the Persian trade was centred, was usually dark brown and came in the form of sticks wrapped in grease-proof paper and tied about with cotton twine, or cones weighing 200-400 grams. Egyptian opium was formed into round, flattened cakes like ice hockey pucks, was reddish in colour and quite hard.

Aficionados, dealers, merchants and users were expert at assessing quality and strength in each and every variety and cargo. Opium was judged with all the finesse of a tea or coffee blender, the pertinent factors being its colour, weight, density, water content and granularity. Many traders could identify and judge the quality of individual samples just as experienced wine tasters can tell the vintage of a bottle of claret and from which vineyard it comes.

When and how man first discovered the potency of opium is hard to ascertain: he has been familiar with it since prehistoric times. The nineteenth century botanist, George Watts, suggested man came upon the poppy’s secret by stages of gradual awareness. Watts conjectured that humans aesthetically appreciated the poppy for its flower before they came to use it as a vegetable: certainly, it was eaten in salads in India as recently as the 1890s, although this may have been for its medicinal qualities. The juice was then found to make a refreshing drink when diluted with water and, eventually, the neat juice would be discovered to have narcotic effects inducing feelings of contentment and capable of numbing pain.

However that first discovery might have been made, today it is known that opiates can be swallowed, smoked, injected, sniffed, inhaled or absorbed through mucous membranes. How it is taken affects the intensity and speed with which it has an effect upon the brain and the whole body.

Historically, there have been only two basic ways to indulge in opium: one was to eat it, the other to smoke it.

Opium eating refers, in effect, to the general swallowing of it for as well as eating it in solid form it is also possible to drink raw opium dissolved in a variety of liquids. Opium in solution might well have been the first common method of taking it as, before the technique of cutting the pods to allow the sap to ooze out, the whole poppy head was crushed and mixed with wine or honey and water. Such a solution served more than one purpose for raw opium has a bitter taste and eating it neat would not have been easy: indeed, raw opium can induce severe vomiting.

Despite this, it was taken orally in India for over 1500 years, the dictum going that efficacy improved with unpalatability. In 1687, it was recorded the Turks ate opium for pleasure but disguised the bitterness with nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon or mace and served it with saffron or ambergris. Even then, it was essentially a medicine and regarded as an aphrodisiac. In Europe, opium was mixed with wine or wine and sugar or honey.

Smoking opium was chiefly confined to China, the East Indies, the eastern seaboard of Indo-China (particularly Vietnam) and Taiwan (formerly Formosa). It had to be concentrated before it could be used. A method of preparing opium for smoking was published in the British Pharmacopoeia in the early nineteenth century:

Take of opium in thin slices, 1lb; distilled water 6 pints. Macerate the opium in 2 pints of water for 24 hours, an express the liquor. Reduce the residue of the opium to a uniform pulp, macerate it again in 2 pints of water for 24 hours, and express. Repeat the operation a third time. Mix the liquors, strain through flannel, and evaporate by a water-bath until the extract has acquired a suitable consistence for forming pills.

Once the extract was produced, the opium mass had been reduced by about 50 per cent, the concentration more or less doubled. Known in China as chan du, the pills were round, pea-sized, dark-coloured and stiffly malleable.

A traditional opium pipe was quite unlike that used by tobacco smokers. There were variations but basically it consisted of a broad tube (often made of a length of bamboo about 5 centimetres in diameter and perhaps 50 centimetres long) with a smaller, usually metal, tube protruding about two-thirds of the way down, ending in a tiny cup or bowl up to 2 centimetres across. In typical Chinese pipes, the bowl was a hollow chamber with a tiny hole in the roof.

The would-be smoker reclined on his side and held the pipe in one hand. With the other he took a thin metal spike or needle about 15 centimetres long, impaling the pill of opium on the end. This task of preparing the pill was traditionally carried out in opium dens by small boys who were, on occasion, also catamites. If the pill was too moist, it was dried over the flame of a small, specifically designed spirit lamp which produced a fierce hot spot above a toughened glass cowl. With the desired consistency achieved, the opium was spread around the base of the bowl or placed over the hole of the hollow bowl by inserting the spike into the hole and pulling it free, the index and second fingers of the pipe hand holding it in place. The bowl was then inverted over the spirit lamp until the opium pill melted and began to vaporise. At this moment, the smoker took a very deep breath and sucked air rich with opium fumes through the main tube. Some early Chinese pipes were similar to hookahs, the fumes drawn through water or scented liquid before inhalation.

The action was ideally done in one large inhalation for the opium was quick to vaporise: a pipe took between fifteen and thirty seconds to run its course. The pipe characteristically whistled while the opium was drawn in. As the smoker inhaled, he sometimes manipulated the opium with a needle-like probe to keep an air-hole open and to force the opium into the chamber of the bowl. Unvaporised opium, or vapour which had not been inhaled, solidified on the interior of the pipes: needless to say, old pipes had a value because they were coated with a residue of raw opium which could be recycled. Known as ‚dross‘, it was a mixture of charcoal, empyreumatic oil and opium and was sold as pills to the poor or mixed with tobacco, tea or some other material smoked by them.

The inhaled fumes were retained as long as the smoker could hold his breath, exhalation made only through the nostrils to gain the best advantage of the fumes: what the lungs did not absorb, the nose might take in. A first-time user was usually nauseated by his pipe but this effect passed after two or three further pipes, diminishing with each. Experienced smokers would take three or four pipes in quick succession, a pipe consisting of one pill.

His smoking over, the smoker fell into a deep but not refreshing sleep which could last from fifteen minutes (with one pipe) to several hours. Upon waking, there were no after-effects, such as a hangover. The smoker was subdued and calm, in a state of extreme lassitude.

The habit of reclining to smoke opium had its origins in China but was not essential: it was, however, convenient for the smoker would quickly fall asleep after his pipe, the effects of which were quite rapid. As Jean Cocteau, the French writer and opium addict, observed: ‚Of all drugs „the drug“ is the most delicate. The lungs instantaneously assimilate its smoke. The effect of a pipe is immediate.‘ He called opium ‚the ultimate siesta‘.

The method of smoking opium has not changed and, in the few places were it is still smoked today, such as the Shan states of north-east Burma (now called the Union of Myanmar), China, Laos and Thailand, the technique and paraphernalia survive. Opium smoking is in fact legal in some countries, notably in the Middle East, where it is sold as sticks about the size of a hot dog sausage.

One does not have to be an addict, or an eater or smoker, to come under the effect of opium: passive consumption is possible. Walking through a field of incised pods can induce mild effects and poppy farmers can tell when the time to harvest is nigh because they wake in the morning with severe headaches and even nausea. Harvesters may absorb opium through their skin and excise officers and traders who come into frequent contact with it can also be affected.

Opium is still consumed by the traditional means of eating and smoking in Third World countries, especially in those where it is produced, but in more technologically advanced nations opium is not widely used today. Its derivative, heroin, is the main opiate of addiction and there are several ways in which that drug can be taken. Unlike opium, heroin is rarely swallowed because this is an ineffectual method of consumption but it is frequently smoked, either mixed with tobacco in a hand-rolled reefer or ‚joint‘, or inserted into a cigarette filter tip.

Smoking is, however, a relatively inefficient way of taking heroin and requires a high purity to be effective. The best non-injectable way to use heroin is to sniff it in powder form through the nostrils – a method known as ’snorting‘ – which allows absorption into the bloodstream through the nasal mucous membranes.

The quickest, most effective way to take heroin is to inject it. This requires certain equipment: a cooker (usually a large spoon), a source of flame and a hypodermic syringe. The addict mixes heroin in the spoon with water, or glucose and water, in order to dissolve it. Lemon juice, citric acid or vitamin C may be added to aid dissolving. This cocktail is heated until it boils, drawn into the syringe through a piece of cotton wool or a cigarette filter to remove solid impurities and injected whilst still warm. An addict calls his equipment his ‚works‘ or ‚kit‘.

Subcutaneous injection is known by addicts as ’skin-popping‘, whilst intravenous injection – injecting straight into the vein – is called ‚mainlining.‘ The mainliner also requires a tourniquet of some sort to distend veins. When the tourniquet is released, the effects of the heroin are almost instantaneous. Most heroin is taken by injection: however, since the arrival of AIDS and the risk of cross-infection through shared needles, the habit of smoking and snorting heroin has been on the gradual increase.

Whatever the means of consumption, whatever methods of taking the drug have become tenable or fashionable, the fact remains that, well before man had developed into a civilised, social being, he had discovered the precarious magic of poppy sap

Opium as Folk Pharmacopoeia

by Alfred W.. McCoy

Regardless of level of development, most societies have used drugs for religion, recreation, and medicine. Discovered and domesticated during prehistoric times in the Mediterranean basin, opium became a trade item between Cyprus and Egypt sometime in the second millennium B.C.

The drug first appeared in Greek pharmacopoeia during the 5th Century B.C. and in Chinese medical texts during the 8th century A.D. Inferring from such slender evidence, it appears that opium farming first developed in the eastern Mediterranean and spread gradually along Asia’s trade routes to India, reaching China by the eighth century A.D. Once introduced into China, opium gained a significant role in formal pharmacopoeia.

It was not until the 15th Century that residents of Persia and India began consuming opium mixtures as a purely recreational euphoric, a practice that made opium a major item in an expanding intra-Asian trade. Indeed, under the reign of Akbar (1556-1605), the Mughal state of north India relied upon opium land as a significant source of revenue. Although cultivation covered the whole Mughal empire, it was concentrated in two main areas–upriver from Calcutta along the Ganges Valley for Bengal opium and upcountry from Bombay in the west for Malwa opium.

The persistent role of opiates as folk medicine and recreational euphoric for nearly 4,000 years raises very real questions about the enormous difficulties in effecting its eradication. Through interaction with opiate receptors in the brain, opium and heroin may well have an inherent biological logic that makes their mass abuse a likelihood at most times, in most societies, where ample supply of the drug is available. Historically, every society that has been introduced to opium as a commercial euphoric has consumed the entire supply made available to it.


Early European Opium Trade (1640-1773)

The earliest European expeditions to Asia also mark the start of their involvement in the region’s opium trade. As Portuguese captains first ventured across the Indian Ocean during the early 16th century, they realized the potential of opium. If your Highness would believe me, Affonso de Albuquerque, the conqueror of Malacca, wrote to his monarch from India in 1513, I would order poppies…to be sown in all the fields of Portugal and command afyam [opium] to be made…and the laborers would gain much also, and people of India are lost without it, if they do not eat it.. From their ports in western India, the Portuguese began exporting Malwa opium to China, competing aggressively with Indian and Arab merchants who controlled this trade.

Eager for a commodity to barter for Chinese silks, the Portuguese imported tobacco from their Brazilian colony half a world away. Although the Chinese frustrated the Portuguese by growing their own tobacco, the pipe itself, which had been introduced by the Spanish, turned out to be the key to China’s markets. Indian opium, mixed with tobacco and smoked through a pipe, was somehow pleasing to the Chinese palate. By the early 18th century, opium smoking was spreading across China, prompting the empire’s first attempt at suppression in 1729 when the Emperor Yung Cheng issued an edict banning the smoking of opium.

Arriving in Asia a century after the Portuguese, the Dutch soon became active in the region’s opium commerce. Instead of trading directly with China like the Portuguese, the Dutch established a permanent port at Jakarta in 1619 and began purchasing opium from Bengal in 1640 to supply Java’s limited demand. As Dutch colonials won monopoly rights for Java’s populous districts, their Company’s opium imports from India rose dramatically from 617 kilograms in 1660 to 72,280 kilograms only 25 years later.

Dutch profits from the opium trade were spectacular. Buying opium cheap in India and selling high in Java allowed the Company a 400 percent profit on shipments in the 1670s. Opium, moreover, proved to be a key trade good that drew Asian merchants to Jakarta. By 1681, opium represented 34 percent of the cargo on Asian ships sailing out of Jakarta. No longer a lightweight luxury or medical item, opium was on its way to becoming a commodity.

Although the last of the Europeans to enter the trade, it was the British who finally completed the transformation of opium from luxury good into bulk commodity. The British East India Company had acquired coastal enclaves at Calcutta in 1656 and Bombay in 1661, but it did not become a major factor in the opium trade for another century. In the interim, a syndicate of Indian merchants up the Ganges River at Patna held a monopoly over the Bengal opium trade, making cash advances to peasant farmers and selling the processed opium to Dutch, British and French merchants. Marching inland from their port at Calcutta, the British conquered Bengal in 1764 and soon discovered the financial potential of India’s richest opium zone.

In this period, the major change involved a shift from a limited trade in opium though intra-Asian networks to an expanding European commerce that stimulated both supply and demand. In the 16th century and earlier, there had been a pre-existing, modest demand for opium in China and Southeast Asia, and low-level production of opium in India.

Working separately, European mercantile companies commercialized both opium cultivation and commerce, making it the basis of a profitable long distance trade in low-weight, high-value goods. At first, the Portuguese transported Indian opium to China. Then the Spanish developed a way to mix tobacco with opium so it could be smoked. Finally, the Dutch took advantage of this rising demand for opium, but their main market was limited to Java and some re-export to China. Through these European efforts, the problem of opium addiction became so serious in China that the Emperor had it banned in 1729.

The extraordinary profitability of this low-weight, high-value commodity was a key incentive for escalating European involvement in the Asian opium trade. In particular, the Dutch V.O.C. made a 400 percent profit on its 1679 shipments.

Increase/decrease in World Opium Production:

–Dutch East India Company (VOC) imports from India rose at a rate of 1.5 per annum during the 1660s–rising from 0.6 metric tons in 1660 to 72.3 tons only 25 years later.

–In 1699, the Dutch imported 87 tons of Indian opium for distribution to Java and the Indies.

–British exports of Indian opium to China increased from 15 tons in 1720 to 75 tons in 1773.

Changes in Opium Cultivation by Region:

Indian production increased by unknown amounts in response to stimulus of European and Indian opium traders.

Changes in Quantity of Opium Consumption by Region:

For the first time in its history, China experienced a significant, but unquantified, level of mass opium addiction.

Summary and Analysis of Trends within Epoch:

In this period, opium entered a proto-modern phase in which its capacity for growth as a major commodity first became evident. Significantly, European and Indian merchants played a catalytic role in commercializing and expanding the India-China opium trade.

It is during this era that opium’s extraordinarily profitability becomes manifest. Through its peculiar properties, opium is the ideal trade good during this epoch. As an addictive drug, opium requires a daily dose giving it the inelastic demand of a basic foodstuff. Long distance sea-trade in bulk foods was beyond the capacity of current maritime technology, but opium had the low weight and high mark-up of a luxury good like cloves or pepper. In the early modern era, opium combines the reliable demand of a basic food with the logistics of a luxury good. Compounding its profitability, the Chinese emperor reacted to the rise of mass addiction by banning opium and thus denying China the opportunity to produce opium locally to undercut the high price of Indian imports.


European Mercantilism (1773-1858)

The modern era in the global opium trade began in 1773 when the British Governor-General of Bengal established a monopoly on the sale of opium. Over the next 130 years, Britain actively promoted the export of Indian opium, defying Chinese drug laws and fighting two wars to open China’s drug market for its merchants.

Under the British, Indian opium became a major global commodity, giving this modern commerce a scale and organization that distinguishes it from earlier forms. When the East India Company conquered Bengal, it took control of a well-established opium industry involving peasant producers, merchants, and long-distance traders.

In 1773, the British Governor abolished the Indian opium syndicate at Patna and established a colonial monopoly on principles that operated for the next half-century. Under the new regulations, the Company had the exclusive right to purchase opium from Bengal’s farmers and auction it for export. Realizing that opium was illegal in China, the Governor barred the Company’s ships that called at Canton to load tea from carrying opium, leaving actual sale of the addictive drug to the private European merchants who bid at the Company’s Calcutta auctions.

In 1797 the Company eliminated the local opium buyers in Bengal and established a system of direct collection that lasted for over a century. Under the new procedures, the Company, and the colonial state that succeeded it, controlled opium cultivation, processing, and export. At its peak in the late 19th century, Bengal’s opium country stretched for 500 miles across the Ganges River Valley, with over a million registered farmers growing poppy plants exclusively for the company on some 500,000 acres of prime land.

From their factories at Patna and Benares in the heart of opium country, senior British officers directed some 2,000 Indian agents who circulated through the poppy districts, extending credit and collecting opium. Processed under strict supervision at the two Company factories, the opium was packed into wooden chests, each containing forty balls and weighing 140 pounds. Bearing the Patna and Benares trade-marks, the chests were sent down to Calcutta under guard and sold at auction to private British merchants.

Since the Chinese state had damned opium as a destructive and ensnaring vice and banned all imports in 1799, British sea captains bribed Canton’s mandarins and smuggled the chests into southern China where the Bengal brands commanded twice the price of the inferior local products. For its first quarter century, this system assured prosperity for British India and a stable opium supply for China. Not only did opium solve the fiscal crisis that accompanied the British conquest of Bengal, it remained a staple of colonial finances, providing from six to fifteen percent of British India’s tax revenues during the 19th Century.

More importantly, opium exports were an essential component of a triangular trade that was central to England’s position as a world power. Trade figures for the 1820s, for example, show that the triangular trade was large and well balanced: 22 million pounds sterling worth of Indian opium and cotton to China; next, 20 million pounds worth of Chinese tea to Britain; and, then, 24 million pounds of British textiles and machinery back to India.

In managing this trade, the Company prized stability above profit, and for over twenty years it held India’s opium exports at 4,000 chests–or 280 tons, just enough to finance its purchase of China’s tea crop.

The system’s success was the cause of its downfall. The vast profits of the Britain’s opium trade attracted competitors. Moreover, the Company’s steadfast refusal to raise Bengal’s opium exports beyond the quota of 4,000 chests per annum left a vast unmet demand for drugs among China’s swelling population of opium smokers. As demand drove the price per chest upward from 415 rupees in 1799 to 2,428 rupees just 15 years later, the Company’s monopoly on Bengal opium faced strong competition from Turkey and west India.

Britain’s most daring rivals were the Americans. Barred from bidding at the Calcutta auctions, Yankee traders loaded their first cargoes of Turkish opium at Smyrna in 1805 and sailed them around the tip of Africa to China. Through these efforts, Turkish opium remained an alternative to the Bengal brands until 1834 when the Yankee captains were finally allowed to bid at the Calcutta auctions and abandoned the long haul around Africa.

The major threat to the Company’s monopoly, however, came from Malwa opium grown in the princely states of west India. Malwa opium captured 40 percent of the China market by 1811. Determined to defend their trade, the Company’s directors decided to promote unlimited production in Bengal. In 1831 the Governor-General of India, Lord William Bentinck, toured the upper Ganges with revenue officers to explore new areas for poppy farming and within the decade cultivation doubled to 176,000 acres.

After the East India Company lost its charter in 1834, its informal regulation of the China opium trade collapsed, allowing profit-hungry American and British captains to take control. Indeed, the Company’s demise launched a fleet of new opium clippers to tack to China against the monsoon winds. As the Company loosened its restrictions in the 1820s and then lost its monopoly in 1834, China’s opium imports increased nearly ten fold–from 270 tons in 1820 to 2,558 tons twenty years later. Opium addiction spread rapidly, reaching some three million Chinese addicts by the 1830s.

In defense of its commerce, Britain fought two wars along the China coast in 1842 and 1858, forcing the empire to open itself to unrestricted opium imports. In 1838, the Emperor’s launched a moralistic anti-opium campaign that threatened Britain’s China trade, and London dispatched a fleet of six warships, capturing Canton in May 1839. The First Opium war ended in 1842 with the Treaty of Nanking which required China to cede Hong Kong, and open five new ports to foreign trade. But China still refused to legalize opium.

The fifteen years following the First Opium War brought a new peak in the China trade. Illicit imports of Indian opium nearly doubled, rising to 4,810 tons in 1858. At the Calcutta auctions, frenzied bidding drove opium prices and profits to new heights, making a fast run to the China coast essential and launching 48 new clippers for the opium fleet. Among the 95 clippers in the fleet, the Calcutta’s Cowasjee family owned six, the Americans of Russell & Co. had eight, and the British giants, Dent and Jardine, operated a total of 27.

The era of the opium clipper ended when China finally legalized the drug trade after its defeat in the Second Opium War (1856-1858). In negotiations over the tariff provisions of this new treaty that ended the war, the British emissary Lord Elgin forced the Chinese to legalize opium imports.

In the aftermath of legalization, Chinese officials began encouraging local production, and poppy cultivation spread beyond the country’s southwest. As addiction spread throughout China, imports of Indian opium rose from 4,800 tons in 1859 to 6,700 tons twenty years later. After peaking in 1880, Indian imports declined slowly for the rest of the century as cheaper, China-grown opium began to supplant the high-grade Bengal brands.

Demand Increasing Ahead of Production:

It appears that opium, once commercialized as recreational euphoric, produces a disproportionate demand that soon exceeds the original supply. In this case, the carefully controlled number of chests from Bengal soon proved insufficient for the demand in China. The result was stimulation of production in other opium regions.

Thus, Malwa and Turkish production increased to help meet China’s growing demand. In the end, England capitulated to market pressures, abandoned its self-imposed restraint, and encouraged an expansion of opium production in India.

Once introduced, commercial opium stimulated demand in China beyond supply, encouraging thereby increased cultivation back in India; which, in turn, stimulated more demand in China, sparking, yet again, higher poppy plantings in India. In effect, even in this earliest era of commoditized opium trading, demand and supply increase through a process of reciprocal stimulation that makes it difficult, analytically, to determine which is the dominant cause.

During the 18th and 19th Centuries, China had a limitless capacity for opium consumption that continually outstripped all production, both local and global.

Changes in Shipping Technology:

Since there was now an unlimited amount of opium that could be grown in India, improvements in shipping technology were needed to move greater amounts to China. Hence, a competition and the appearance of the clipper ship. Speed now determined profitability in the opium trade.

Chinese Government Policy:

The Chinese Imperial decrees of 1729 and 1799 banning opium smoking and importation did not restrain the rising addiction problem. However, the legalization of opium consumption in 1858 encouraged a sharp rise in both production and consumption. With legalization, domestic opium superseded imports, making speed less important in the shipping of opium and allowing steamships to replace the clippers.

Thus, we must conclude that China’s policy of prohibiting opium consumption and cultivation from 1729 to 1858 assured the East India Company a de facto monopoly over this fast growing market and created the basic underlying conditions for the hyper profitability of the India-China opium trade.

Without this prohibition on cultivation, China could have reacted the Company’s aggressive exports of Bengal opium by encouraging local opium harvests and destroying both market and profits for the Indian imports. As it was, China’s addicts and their near insatiable demand for the illicit drug created high profits and inspired ferocious competition among merchant captains competing for a share of this lucrative market–English out of Calcutta, Indian and English out of Bombay, and Americans out of Smyrna, Turkey.

Nature of Chinese Demand:

In the midst of the acute demographic and caloric crisis of southeastern China in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, opium attributes as a appetite suppressant may have increased its appeal to users at a time of scarcity and high food prices. At certain periods, the use of opium may have suppressed appetite sufficiently to make its addiction economical in comparison to the cost of eating a normal diet.

Economics of European Mercantilism:

In colonial Asia of this period (1773-1858), all successful European economic initiatives involved commercialization of drugs in some form–caffeine, nicotine, or opiates. This 18th century trade transformed these drugs from luxury goods into commodities of mass consumption, making them integral to the economies and lifestyles of both Asian and Atlantic nations.

In Java after 1720, the Dutch V.O.C. collected a tax in coffee in the Priangen region of west Java and made vast profits through sales in Europe and America, becoming the globe’s greatest coffee broker and gaining thereby a substitute for its substantial share of the China opium trade lost to Britain after 1720.

Consciously imitating the V.O.C., Bourbon Spanish reformers in Manila established the Tobacco Monopoly in the 1782 and, for the next century, financed their colonial administration from their exclusive control over the cultivation and sale of this addictive drug to Filipinos.

In Bengal, the British East India Company imposed a monopoly over opium in 1773 and used its sale to China to finance purchase of caffeine, in the form of tea, for export to Europe and North America. Within the monopolistic logic of mercantilism, the East India Company achieved the highest profits from opium because, from 1773 to 1830, its strong controls over key aspects–production, export, and sales.

Increase/decrease in World Opium Production:

–The area under cultivation in Bengal, India increased from 90,000 acres in 1830, to 176,000 by 1840, and, finally, a peak of 500,000 acres by 1900.

Changes in Opium Cultivation by Region:

–Reflecting directly increases in production, Indian opium exports to China rose from 75 tons in 1773 to 4,810 tons in 1858–a sustained, high-level of growth over the space of 75 years.

–Again reflecting increases in production, Turkish exports to China increased from 7 tons in 1805 to 100 tons in 1830–creating another instance of steady, high-level growth in production over a protracted period.

Changes in Quantity of Opium Consumption by Region:

–Rising from insignificant levels in the early 1700s, by the 1830s China had an estimated 3 million opium smokers.

–US imports of opium rose 8 tons in 1840 to 62.7 tons in 1858.

Summary and Analysis of Trends within Epoch:

From the late 18th century onward, opium became a major trade commodity. Under the British East India Company (BEIC), centralized controls accelerated the export of Indian opium to China–from 13 tons in 1729 to and 2,558 tons in 1839. Using its full military and mercantile power, Britain played a central role in making China a lucrative drug market.

The Company’s steadfast refusal to raise Bengal’s opium exports beyond its self-imposed quota of 4,000 chests per annum left a vast unmet demand for drugs among China’s swelling population of opium smokers. When demand drove the price per chest upward from 415 rupees in 1799 to 2,428 rupees just 15 years later, the East India Company’s monopoly on Bengal opium faced competition from Turkey and west India.

As the Company loosened its restrictions in the 1820s and then lost its monopoly in 1834, China’s opium imports increased nearly ten fold–from 270 tons in 1820 to 2,558 tons twenty years later. Opium addiction grew rapidly, reaching some three million Chinese addicts by the 1830s. Simultaneously, China’s illicit imports of Indian opium nearly doubled, rising to 4,810 tons in 1858.


Joshua Foust is an American military analyst. He blogs about Central Asia and Afghanistan at Registan.net . Reuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

It would be an understatement to call opium cultivation in Afghanistan America’s headache. The issue of illegal drug cultivation and smuggling has vexed policymakers for three decades, and led to a multi-billion dollar campaign to combat the phenomenon.

Opium causes all of our problems, so they say—according to  a factsheet at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul (pdf), opium creates instability, funds the insurgency, and wreaks havoc on the government. They’re not alone –  entire books have been written on the subject.

The blame game on opium, however, ignores a critical – and quite uncomfortable – fact: it misses the point. The reality is, while the cultivation of opium does not help matters from a Western perspective, in Afghanistan it is actually a healthy economic activity. The concerns over its cultivation, too, are overblown: even a brief look at the numbers show it to be at best a trailing indicator of insecurity, insurgency, corruption, and economic malaise. Opium, therefore, is only an indicator of other, more substantial problems.

Consider, for example, what I call The Nangarhar Swing. According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, in 2005 Nangarhar produced nearly 1/5 of Afghanistan’s opium, but was virtually poppy-free in 2006.  2007 saw a 285 percent increase (pdf) in cultivation, making the province one of the country’s top poppy producers. Yet in 2008, it was  once again virtually poppy-free (pdf). This shift cannot be tied only to security, as many like to claim: according to the violence statistics compiled by the Long War Journal, even as Nangarhar has stopped the large scale cultivation of opium, it has become steadily more violent. Moreover, there are many other areas of the country, like Khost province along the border with Pakistan, or Kunar province further north, where the insurgency has become worse even as those provinces were emptied of opium.

The discrepancy is really a trick of language: When the UNODC declares a province poppy-free, what they mean is, production there is “negligible”, not non-existent. Whether that is in the context of total production, other provinces, or some sort of absolute number (a percentage of arable land or total worldwide opium production) isn’t really clear. In Nangarhar, several times declared “poppy free” by the UNODC, there remain active opium eradication missions in outlying districts such as Sherzad. What’s noteworthy about it is not the presence of some fairly smallish opium farms in southwestern Nangarhar, as most opium farms are small family affairs. What is interesting is the density of the farms. In a single 5 km stretch of the countryside, teams found and destroyed 100 poppy fields. For a supposedly poppy-free province, that is simply stunning.

It also covers up the substantial effect of destroying the opium economy. In many parts of Afghanistan, opium is the economy, and the World Bank estimated in 2008 it accounts for 1/3 of the country’s economy. In opium-adjacent communities, opium funds underpin the entire local economy: especially in the opium “heartland” in the South, the only way for small farmers to get microcredit loans or deal with exporters is through opium traders. Through a system of loans called salaam, they in essence create informal futures markets on crops… but only opium. Cereal crops and fruits, or other licit agriculture, are not included in this system (even though it is possible for other actors, whether the government or NGOs, to provide this service). In fact, the ways these markets have developed in the south is remarkably similar to how informal credit markets formed in rural medieval Europe. It is normal. The West just happens to dislike the crop.

But even in opium “success stories”, there are significant problems to simply removing the crop. In Nangarhar, the wild swings in opium prices and cultivation crashed the rural economy again and again. Most of the microcredit salaam loans farmers take out are not denominated in any currency – they pay in opium. So, when prices crash or an eradication team sweeps through, farmers become trapped in a horrendous debt cycle where the only means of escape is to grow yet more opium. There are even rumors of farmers selling a daughter or son to the traffickers in payment, and many families have fled to either Iran or Pakistan to avoid reprisals for unpaid opium debt.

There is a more fundamental economic problem to growing poppy, however: areas that grow opium actually tend to be the wealthiest. Sherzad District in Nangarhar, where there is still opium cultivation and eradication, actually has relatively high income compared to the rest of Nangarhar.  According to the International Monetary Fund (pdf), when Nangarhar province saw a huge drop in opium cultivation in 2005/6, province-wide GDP was about $1.3 billion (which was a big drop from the year before, when there was much more opium). The next year, 2006/7, when opium production spiked 285%, province-level GDP rose to $3.2 billion, only to fall the next year to $1.8 billion as the UNODC declared it poppy-free.

So what is to be done? The Obama administration has wisely recognized that opium eradication is a non-starter, and does far more harm than the marginal good of destroying some opium crops. UNODC Chief Antonio Maria Costa recently agreed, and suggested a “flood of drugs” in its place. Under this plan, somehow the borders of Afghanistan would be sealed so that no drugs can “escape”, in their words, thus crashing the price of opium. Feasible or not, Costa’s idea at least tries to examine other ways of reducing the need for opium cultivation. Looking at opium cultivation as an economic factor, however, leads one to many other conclusions that are inconvenient for a political and military apparatus designed to oppose the very idea of drug cultivation.

If opium is an economic puzzle, and not a political-military one, then there should be an economic (or at least non-military) solution to it. Several years ago, the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit published a study (pdf) comparing the factors behind the cultivation of opium in adjacent provinces in the “poppy-free” north. Water shortages, soil moisture and salinity, severe socioeconomic inequality driving food insecurity, a poor presence of formal institutions, all have decisive impacts on a household decision whether or not to cultivate opium.

More recently, a team of Norwegian researchers has noted a strong causation between violence and opium cultivation, but not in the way most think:  in their research paper (pdf), they assert that opium follows conflict, and not the other way around. In other words, opium cultivation is simply a feature of ungoverned conflict zones, and especially in Afghanistan, something people do as a last resort when other economic activities fail to provide for their families.

Taken together, these studies (and the many others like them—this is a growing field of study) point to a counterintuitive conclusion: do nothing. That is, focusing only on opium misses the point, and doesn’t address the reasons why it is grown. If opium cultivation were an indicator of an ungoverned or contested space, then that would indicate that making that space governed and uncontested would also address the opium.

There are a few examples even within Afghanistan where governance and security came first, and then opium cultivation simply dropped off. Badakhshan province was the only province in the country that was completely Taliban-free in 2001, and as a result was the only one to grow opium in any really measurable amount during the Taliban’s prohibition. Since the American invasion, it has remained mostly quiet, and has seen a growing success in both trade connections to neighboring areas and better governance by multiple levels of officials. As an aid worker active there told me recently, “the price of poppy has fallen fastest in the north (where the poppy has a lower morphine content), and in Badakhshan, farmers can already make more from okra or onions than opium.” Selling vegetables is relatively low risk and carries a good profit margin – something that cannot be said for the majority of Afghanistan’s non-subsistence farmers.

Drug traffickers have taken enormous measures to lower the risk of drug cultivation, but the development community has not taken the time to do so for legal agriculture. It remains prohibitively expensive to ship anything out of Afghanistan, and border politics especially with Pakistan (one worker recently complained that difficulties in crossing the border into Pakistan meant an entire crop of potatoes from Khost province rotted at the border crossing, unsold) keep export-driven agriculture uncertain and extremely risky. By focusing so much of its energies onto eradication or somehow controlling the cultivation of opium, both the International Community and the government of Afghanistan have ignored providing other ways for farmers to make money legally – even when Alternative Livelihood programs exist in an area, they’re poorly administered and often barely make a dent in the local economy.

So why not do nothing? Opium is not Afghanistan’s biggest problem – it is horrendous poverty, bad infrastructure and no security. When it comes to all three problems, Afghanistan faces two major hurdles – underinvestment (money, equipment, education, health, and security) and corruption-driven illegitimacy. Making matters worse, the overwhelming majority of aid in the country flows outside government channels or oversight, which undercuts Kabul’s legitimacy even among the people it helps.

Focusing only on opium, therefore, doesn’t actually focus on the more fundamental problems facing the country. It is an obsession on symptoms, while the causes go unaddressed. The missing piece of governance, and with it the development of the necessary institutions of society and economy, is the critically ignored piece of almost all plans to eliminate opium in Afghanistan. And as examples like Badakhshan have shown, when even moderate progress is made on these fronts, people will voluntarily switch to growing other crops, and they will make enough money to support themselves. It’s enough to make one wonder just why there needs to be a plan in the first place. It’s counterintuitive, but scrapping the West’s counternarcotics policies is surest way to actually achieve the counternarcotics goal of a poppy-free Afghanistan.

(Reuters photos: Opium fields in Farah province/Goran Tomasevic)

The drug subculture which developed as part of the rise in narcotic drug use in the
1960s has received much attention. Academic sociologists and the media found this, as
an area of deviant behaviour, a subject of considerable intellectual interest and also of
popular fascination. Drug taking as an alternative way of life, where, as Jock Young
puts it, „drug use is given a different meaning from that existing previously“, has
become part of the sociology of deviance. Issues such as the formation and role of the
altemative subculture, the social reaction against deviant drug use, and the particular
importance of the changing social class of drug takers as providing justification for a
moral response, have attracted attention. The transformation of the typical drug user
in the 1960s from a middle-class middle-aged female into a young working-class male
had, it is argued, much to do with the social reaction evoked, and the type of legal and
social controls put into effect.‘ In the 1980s, the link with unemployment has again
been stressed; and the reappearance of cocaine as a „smart“ drug has also provided
another source of sensationalism for the popular press. However, the widespread
assertion that drug taking has now become more „normal“ would seem to downgrade
the ’60s emphasis on drug use as a subcultural activity.2 Certainly, the „junkie“
stereotype is less prominent in media coverage.

Read more:medhist00064-0055

Sehr interessanter Ausflug in die Medizin-Geschichte des 9. Jahrhunderts!

Der Artikel ist in Englisch!

Hier geht es weiter: pj_20031220_opium

Mal wieder etwas Politik, diesmal von der Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik!

Enjoy it:2010_S02_mss_ks

By Farzana Shah

Monday, 23 February 2009.

In Afghanistan, U.S./NATO have put the blame on Taliban for poppy cultivation to finance their resistance to allied forces. Ironically, it was only in Taliban era when the world had seen a sharp decline in opium crop in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban had banned opium cultivation nationwide, probably for the first time in Afghan history. A more important question is how and when this business of drug production and trafficking started in region? CIA has been using drug money since long to generate money to support its operations all over the world. It did not start in Afghanistan it was brought here after experimenting somewhere else. This is something which is not a lead story in international media for obvious reasons despite the fact it is harming millions of lives around the globe.

1. CIA’s secret Operations

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on of the most active and dynamic intelligence setups in the world needs massive amount of money to carry on its clandestine operations all over the world. It has happened when CIA used local sources to conduct a coups, assassinations, regime change, etc. As U.S. has a long history to support democracy by hook and crook until and unless a dictator is ready to serve U.S. interests to prolong its rule.

Operations like the one completed in Iran in 1953 to remove Prime Minister Mussadaq and backing Shah’s regime by using assets in civil society, or in Iraq in 1975 to arm Iraqi Kurds to destabilize Pre-Saddam Iraq or more recently using its assets in Pakistan to pave the way of direct U.S. intervention in Pakistan under pretext of hunting Al-Qaeda.

These kinds of operations need a lot of financial input. Usually CIA arranges revenue from its own means for this kind of operations where expenses can’t be predicted by any measure. Funds from Whitehouse always need a complete audit and detailed reports about usage of these funds. There are numerous occasions when CIA never shared details of operations with its own analytical wing nor with any other public office in Washington. Most of the time it is drug money that compensates these expenses.

CIA operations are not only single expenditure fulfilled by drugs there are also other deficiencies which are compensated with this money like financial institutes and banks in current financial crisis. UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa based in Vienna revealed that drug money often became the only available capital when the crisis spiraled out of control last year.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime had found evidence that “inter bank loans were funded by money that originated from drug trade and other illegal activities,” Costa was quoted as saying. There were “signs that some banks were rescued in that way.”

It is not only CIA anymore in trade for using it as gold mine to finance its illegal operations all over the world but U.S. economy also need some liquidity in its banks, it doesn’t matter if it is coming by drug trade.

2. Drug Production & Consumption

Afghanistan is largest producer of heroin’s main ingredient; opium and opium is nothing new in this part of the world. In Afghanistan and FATA, Pakistan it is being produced since centuries; used as remedy for various diseases. Commercial production of opium began just during the Russian invasion in Afghanistan where it is estimated to produce some 8250 metric tons (Source: AmericanFreePress.net, November 24, 2008) of opium per year which makes 85% to 90%

of the world’s supply of opium. This also contributes towards Afghan warlords’ wealth directly. This is what CIA brought to the region: Opium production without a brand name obviously. Today’s world opium production map is as under;

Left: Demand and trafficking of drugs globally. U.S. is one of very high concentration drug trafficking territory thanks to Regan’s National Security Council who turned a blind eye towards South American cocaine socking into U.S. in 1980 when CIA was backing all the drug traffickers of Contra movements in Nicaragua.

Markets for these drugs stretched world over from Western Europe to Far East, From Canada to Latin America and From China to Morocco, Africa. Profits related to this business also vary along with market’s location.

This business enriches not only the United States-friendly Afghan warlords but also elements of the Northern Alliance, the U.S. key ally in the country. More disturbing is fact that this money also contributes in CIA’s operations against Pakistan as well.

3. Contra Movements (1980)

In Asia demand for heroin is more than any other drug but it is not the case world over. Cocaine is favourite drug which is consumed the most. Cocaine was nothing new in South American countries but it was only during Nicaraguan contra movements against the then dictator it got shoot up. It was again CIA’s regime change operation to bring “democracy” in Nicaragua. It was during this period when the whole region saw an unprecedented surge in cocaine trafficking in 1980. This has been investigated none other than but by CIA’s inspector general in later years.

Was CIA a part of this?

Answer is not only CIA was aiding these cocaine traffickers and money-launderers but Ronald Reagon’s National Security Council also turned a blind eye towards these drug trades despite the fact that later these very drug traffickers brought cocaine to mainland U.S.. According to CIA’s inspector general report, published in online magazine The Consortium magazine, Oct. 15, 1998, it was Reagan’s National Security Council which cleared proven drug traffickers and CIA inspector general Frederick Hitz confirmed long standing allegations of cocaine traffickers. The NSC’s covert airline was the main transportation mean to do this trade in safest possible way.
Figure
1: Armed men of Nicaragua insurgency during 1980s, armed with CIA weapons bought with drug money.

Most stunning part of all this contra movements and CIA involvement is methods these movements used to dismantle the then Nicaraguan government including bombing and killing of civilians and CIA withheld all evidence of contra crimes from Justice Department, the Congress and even its own analytical division just to conceal its connection with drug traffickers.

4. Afghanistan

As it is mentioned earlier that Afghanistan was not a hub of drug supply to world before Russian invasion in 1979. It was CIA once again to implement what it successfully implemented in Nicaragua in 1980. Now, Afghanistan is biggest contributor in drug production with its massive opium production.

Russian Afghan War (1979-1989)

CIA was not fully done with contra movements when Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979 threatening the region with her expansionist design to gain control over Afghanistan and Baluchistan province of Pakistan to reach Arabian Sea. Pakistan decided to confront Russia inside Afghanistan to thwart communist designs. CIA found an opportunity in Afghanistan to settle its long standing duel with Russian for global dominion, after initial successes by Afghan fighters. CIA once again brought tested formula of drug to finance this war which it used in South America with only difference in prescription where cocaine was replaced with heroin. Poppy cultivation was nothing new to Afghan but it was level of production and demand created by international traffickers in the world which shocked many in vicinity of these poppy fields.

Profit gained by these drugs was main driving force behind all this trade and with heroin it was much more than what it was with cocaine. Ironically U.S. and Europe became biggest markets of heroin prepared produced in Afghanistan.

Regan’s administration is also a common factor in both Afghan heroin trade and contra cocaine traffickers. Role of CIA in first Afghan war was not overt as it could provoke Russians in more direct retaliation albeit Cuban missile crisis of 1960s. To avoid that kind of hostility it was more suitable for CIA to have silent links with Afghan warlords and providing sources to grow poppy. “By the end of Russian invasion in 1989 Afghanistan was second largest opium production spot with 1350 Metric ton after notorious Golden Triangle including countries like Laos, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam which was producing 2645 Metric ton at that time leaving Latin America way behind with just 112 Metric ton”, as per U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Pre and Post Taliban Era (1994-2001)

In 1994 unrest and lawlessness in Afghanistan gave rise to Taliban. Motivated with their strict religious background and education they put ban on all kinds of drugs in territory under their control but this was not the cure for chronically infected Afghan economy and society. Non availability of any job market and strong hold of Northern Alliance of Northern part of country remained biggest challenge to these efforts to cut down poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. But despite all the challenges Talibans were able to put a serious cut on opium production in Afghanistan by start of 2001 when they were about to capture Northern Alliance’s strong hold Mazar-e-Sharif but post 9/11 scenario not only changed the geopolitical dynamics of the whole world but also destroyed the efforts of Taliban to control opium production.

Figure 2: Afghan opium sells in cheap at home, worth a fortune in U.S. market

Left: In year 2001, just before U.S./NATO invasion into Afghanistan, Taliban were able to cut down opium production by a decisive margin. This was also one of core reasons against Taliban along with other excuses. After year 2002, when Taliban were removed from power there is a historical increase in opium production in Afghanistan, money is going to pentagon to carry on Afghan and Iraq war despite a historical recession in U.S..

Recent Afghan Conflict (2002 – To date)

Afghanistan is leading opium production in world today but after the invasion of U.S. in 2002 Afghanistan is also attributed to have largest heroin production in the world as well.

Without active support of Pentagon and CIA it is not possible to export drug prepared with more than 8000 metric tons of opium. U.S. relations with Northern Alliance in Afghanistan after Taliban have given a free license to drug producers, traffickers. CIA and Pentagon both have their links to all these criminals in order to get supplies of the drugs and export it in U.S. Army planes. It has been reported that CIA used U.S. Army planes leaving Afghanistan carrying coffins which were filled with drugs instead of bodies.

To make sure undisturbed trade U.S. appointed all Northern Alliance drug lords at key posts in Afghanistan and most prominent appointment was none other than President Hamid Karzai. Karzai’s brother, head of Kandahar’s provincial council is proven drug trafficker facilitating the transportation of heroin from Kandahar eastward through Helmand and out across the Iranian border.

There is no reason to believe that CIA is not aware of this but as it is all one big enterprise where Karzai is also a partner so no danger to his brother.

Bush administration pushed the level of poppy cultivation to next level in Afghanistan just to keep Wall Streets alive in crisis. Many top Bush administration’s officials were worried about growing influence of countries in Golden Triangle (Loas, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma) in Russian and Chinese drug markets. Like Oil in Iraq this was just another opportunity for the Bush administration to have some quick bucks.

Blames for using drugs to fight with NATO and U.S. forces is always put on Taliban. But looking at areas of Taliban’s active zones one can easily understand where all this poppy cultivation is taking place. Taliban put ban on poppy when they were incharge of majority of Afghan territories and Kabul, the capital. Afghanistan was suffering worst economic crisis at that time but Taliban never went to build their economy with heroin trade. Now it is just ridiculous to blame Taliban to have vast fields of poppy and having enough peace and time to grow and process it into heroin and then trade it in Pakistan and Iran to dens it to destinations in Eastern Europe. Below is map of Afghanistan indicating high poppy cultivation provinces and it is quite evident that Taliban dominant

Hamid Karzai, to represent Kandahar province in Kabul. According to media reports he is main player in exporting heroin and opium to European countries through Turkmenistan.

Provinces like Kunar, Pektika,Paktya has low poppy cultivation and other provinces where all U.S./CIA supported warlords are holding key positions are growing most of opium crop. It was only after U.S. invasion there was a 4400% increase in opium production.

U.S. role in Afghan social debacle will go in history as described The Huffington Post on October 15, 2008When the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is written, Washington’s sordid involvement in the heroin trade and its alliance with drug lords and war criminals of the Afghan Communist Party will be one of the most shameful chapters.”

5. Pakistan: Indirect Victim of the CIA’s Drug business

Almost the whole world is affected by this drug trade but countries which lie in routes of drug traffickers are worst effected after the original drug markets. Countries like Pakistan are paying a very high price for U.S./CIA drug trade as there is a constant increase in drug addiction in Pakistan. Iran is another country which happens to be in route of international drug traffickers so it is also facing problem of smuggling of heroin and morphine from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Turkey and Europe. After U.S. invasion of Afghanistan this route has become active manifold then it was previously.

Effects of this trade are not limited to drug usage only but it destroys the social fabric in a society and gives rise to street crimes in order to get some cash to buy drugs from street market. A more horrible outcome is spread of HIV virus among addicted persons when they share the injection syringes. This threat is increasing with each passing day as number of HIV positive is increasing.

Another disastrous effect it brought to Pakistan and Afghanistan other neighbors is serious law and order situation in bordering area of each country with Afghanistan. Combating this evil trade is not possible until a holistic effort is made by international community in this regards but its chances are bleak as this trade is needed by global imperialism (Israel, U.S., UK) more than ever before to give some support to their dying economies.

Above: Pakistan has become main artery in heroin trafficking route and it has a lot of implication on Pakistani security. Level of drug addicted also increased over the year due to high availability of drugs in street market. Afghanistan is main producer but Pakistan us where most of drugs are seized.

6. Conclusion

Under current situation it is very important for countries like Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Russia to think about how to put jinni of drug back to the bottle before international drug mafia takes over these countries by destroying their social norms and values.

CIA not only has a long history of having links with traffickers but also encouraging the drug trade to get its own interests served. CIA always encourages this trade even if it affected its own citizens like in Contra movements of 1980.

Afghanistan became leader in opium production and main hub for providing heroin and its main ingredient to whole world. All this happened under the control of champion of human rights U.S. and its intelligence setup mainly CIA.

Situation is becoming more and bleaker unless Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran and Afghanistan governments start thinking about this trade and its far reaching affects on U.S. economy and CIA’s funding. It is time when the whole region should become equivocal against this trade and ask U.S. to leave the region for greater good of the billions of people in region.

Farzana Shah is a Pakistani researcher and journalist based in Peshawar. She can be reached at janashah_1ATyahoo.com