Indian opium production

Historically, Afghanistan has traditionally been recognised as having a significant role in the global opium trade, particularly regarding the cultivation of opium poppies. However, in recent years India has also seen a vast increase in illicit cultivation of opium poppies. The increasing growth of the crop in India comes as rural farming communities continue to struggle, as they have not been able to be a part of India’s growing economy. Alternative development can help to address the issues that shadow survival economies face, particularly so in places like India, as poverty is an issue that affects many communities in the country. By addressing underlying factors, this approach deals with many issues. Poppy farming itself is a traditional practice in areas such as the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary, and is a lucrative occupation for local people. Opium is grown among other crops to enable growers to disguise it. Local groups, often attempting to establish strongholds and influence in districts like these, promote opium cultivation to raise funds for their various political activities. These include Christian group The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), and Communist groups such as Maoists. In turn, farmers can be well-paid when growing the crop. Payment is through middlemen, who act on behalf of these political groups. The NDFB are in control of a small part of Arunachal Pradesh. In addition to opium, cannabis cultivation is another source of revenue for Maoists.

Opium cultivation has shifted to areas including the eastern borders of Arunachal Pradesh, especially as a result of an anti-opium drive in the northern provinces of Myanmar. In addition to the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary and the borders of Arunachal Pradesh, opium cultivation also takes place near the India-Bangladesh border, in places like the Kishanganj district of Bihar. There has been a small reduction in opium cultivation as a result of government action; however evidence suggests that forced crop eradication proves counter-productive to the stated aims of such exercises, and can especially negatively impact on poorer areas. Opium is often the most valuable crop that a farmer can cultivate, and also for other locals-a security source from Arunachal Pradesh recently told The Times of India ‘Around 200 youths are reported to be running the poppy farming racket in the border areas of Arunachal Pradesh’.

The value of the crop to farmers is so significant that they will just re-plant the fields with new seeds; as considerable numbers of people are involved in opium production, it is likely that attempts to reduce opium cultivation through forced crop eradication will be futile. Forced crop eradication is sometimes co-ordinated with alternative development programmes, addressing the factors that shape the decision to grow the crop. In recent years, security forces destroyed over 2,100 kg of raw opium and 400 hectares of poppy fields. Despite attempting alternative development programmes, forced crop eradication can cause distrust between agencies and communities, and undermine efforts to improve the economic circumstances of subsistence farmers. Although it is currently only a small proportion of the crop globally, the growth of opium cultivation in India has been rapid and is likely to continue, particularly in respect of the profitability of the crop and the amount of land that local farmers know is ripe for cultivation.