CHIANG RAI – Farmers in eight northern provinces and some parts of the Northeast are defying the state’s crackdown and still growing the illegal crop.
The latest survey, conducted between August 2012 and July this year, found opium poppy cultivation has increased by about 355 rai, or 27.2%, meaning a total of 1,659 rai in the country is now dedicated to growing the plants.
The plantations are found across 50 tambons of 27 districts in eight northern provinces and one in the Northeast _ Loei _ according to the Narcotic Crops Survey and Monitoring Institute, a division of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board.
Opium cultivation has expanded in every one of these provinces, except Mae Hong Son and Chiang Rai, which have seen a decrease in use of land to grow opium poppies.
About 1,300 rai, or 78% of total opium cultivation in the country, was in Chiang Mai at the time of the survey.
Most plantations are found in Omkoi district, followed by Chiang Dao district, according to the survey.
The institute has sent these findings to the Third Army Region, which oversees northern Thailand, as well as police and Chiang Mai officials to include in a new round of crackdowns.
The official response to the findings has been satisfactory, said Thipaporn Thassanapak, director of the institute’s strategy and administration section.
Authorities have destroyed up to 1,296 rai of opium plantations in Chiang Mai, which is about 99% of the total cultivation area in the province, Ms Thipaporn said.
Despite such efforts, growers continue to cultivate opium to feed high demand, Chiang Mai deputy governor Adisorn Kamnoetsiri said.
Opium poppy growers are aware of the possibility of a crackdown, so they always prepare new plantation areas to immediately replace destroyed ones, he said.
Many of these farmers have very low incomes.
Their houses are in remote areas with poor living conditions, and they have limited job opportunities, Mr Adisorn said.
The high earnings from planting opium poppies have driven farmers to grow the illegal plants not only in order to escape poverty but also to afford everyday amenities, Ms Thipaporn said.
Another source of concern for the authorities is the increasing use of modern technology in poppy fields.
Currently, drug traders are helping farmers acquire chemical fertilisers, insecticides and sprinklers to ensure the plants are in good health.
“Their crop yields can increase to up to 4kg a rai” as a result of using such technology, Ms Thipaporn said.
And as long as demand for the drug stays strong, officials are likely to be trapped in a never-ending battle to quash its production.