Opium farming has spread to Chin State, as cultivation of the drug continues to sow discord throughout other parts of the country.
According to the emergency relief group the Free Burma Rangers (FBR), many internally displaced people in Chin State have turned to the cash crop due to a cycle of droughts and flooding that have made both farming and fishing difficult.
Villagers who in the past would have hunted for wild game in times of food scarcity have been prevented from doing so in recent years by heightened security along the state’s border with India as a result of fighting between rebel groups and Indian government forces, the group said.
Speaking to DVB, FBR founder David Eubank said the problem has only recently emerged in the state.
“As for the scale of it, it’s a relatively new phenomenon,” he said, adding that FBR continues to monitor the situation.
The solution, he said, is for the government to work hand-in-hand with community members to transition to safe and sustainable income sources.
“Our experiences of people that grow opium is that they are the most wretchedly poor,” said Eubank. “The local government needs to give these people crop substitution programs, social services subsidies, and protected human rights. But you also need enforcement, and that seems to be the only thing the Burmese government uses selectively.”
Poppy farming and opium addiction has long plagued Kachin and Shan states, where the drug is used recreationally and in traditional medicine. Burma remains the world’s second-largest producer of opium after Afghanistan.
The Kachin Baptist Church-backed drug vigilante group Pat Jasan has notoriously employed harsh methods to counter drug addiction in its home state.
Known for aggressively raiding homes and slashing poppy fields in camouflage fatigues and armed with batons, Pat Jasan has angered some locals and won the admiration of others.
Earlier in the year, a teenaged member of the group was killed while participating in a field slashing drive in Kachin State. The attacker, still unknown, was widely suspected to have acted in retaliation for an earlier field-slashing drive.