Opium cultivation increasing in India

An increase in illegal opium cultivation has brought new prosperity to parts of the Arunachal Pradesh region in eastern India. However this source of new wealth has also left a trail of addiction in its wake.

The Lohit valley in eastern Arunachal Pradesh on the border with China and Myanmar currently has about 10,000 hectares of opium fields. India is a big legal producer of opium, which is used to make such medicinal products such as Codeine and Morphine. However the opium fields in the valley are not licensed and it is roughly estimate that they produce around 100 tons of opium a year, some of it is consumed locally in the region while the rest is sold on the illegal market. India is said to be a major transit route for illicit heroin, opium, morphine base and hashish from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar and to a lesser extent Nepal. A lot of the drugs trafficked through India end up on the European market.

Myanmar which after Afghanistan is the second biggest illegal opium producer in the world accounts for 5 percent of global production.  Although opium production has increased in the last two years, due to international pressure the 1990s saw the Myanmar military government carry out a major crackdown on illegal opium cultivation. This caused cultivation to shift across the border into India. Rising poverty in the region is seen as the reason that more people are choosing to grow the crop instead of legal alternatives that bring in less income.

The local government seems to have turned a blind eye not only on the increasing opium addiction but also on the lack of infrastructure and addiction treatment clinics in the area. Financial support packages that are designated to the region are often siphoned off by corrupt local government officials and have little effect on alleviating poverty.

Like most people in developing or third world countries who chose to cultivate drugs for the illegal market, the opium growers in eastern India seem to be doing it more out of economic necessity than a desire to be the next Pablo Escobar. If the governed improved the local infrastructure and looked for legal alternative crops, villagers would find opium cultivation less appealing.

The profits from opium cultivation has meant now in rural villages in the Lohit valley it is not uncommon to see expensive solar panels on the houses, as well as well dressed girls with polished nails. However in most villages in the valley at least a quarter of the adult population are addicted to opium. This has a toll on society far greater than the economic benefits brought by this lucrative crop.