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In Myanmar, Replacing Poppy Plants with Coffee


Large numbers of opium poppy plants grow in the mountains of Myanmar’s Shan State. In fact, Shan State is the second-largest opium-producing area in the world.

After a drop in production during the 2000s, the number of poppies has risen in the past eight years. Some experts have linked the increased production to a growing demand for the drug heroin in China. But Myanmar’s poppy farmers are now earning less on their crops.

Now, the United Nations is hoping many will decide to grow coffee instead.

For years, thousands of Shan State farmers have earned more profit from sales of opium poppy than from other crops. But poppy prices fluctuate; they may rise one month, but fall the next.

Fifty-four-year-old Long San is a poppy farmer. He was one of 400 growers who last year joined a U.N.-supported crop replacement program. Long San is now growing coffee.

So far, Myanmar’s efforts to cut down on poppy growing have done little to stop the farmers. A U.N. study found that more than 57-thousand hectares of poppy were grown in Shan State last year. That is almost three times the area farmed in 2006.

That has made Myanmar second only to Afghanistan in production.

But drug traffickers can be bad business partners. The U.N.’s Jochen Wiese says farmers have a better choice.

“You have to find something, which is economically is competitive, and also sustainable, and we having here the altitudes – between 1,000 and 1,700 meters -- where the main poppy production takes place, and this is just the precise area where you can grow high-quality coffee.”

It will still be a few years before the coffee plants are ready to harvest. But until then, growers continue to receive seeds, tools and training.

There are currently 200 hectares of coffee being grown. U.N. officials hope the area could expand to 600 hectares by the end of the year.

A major concern, however, is the struggle for territory between ethnic armed groups and the government.

For now, the young coffee plants occupy just a small part of Shan State’s poppy fields. But they represent hope that this area will one day be known for its coffee, not its opium.

I’m Bob Doughty.

Daniel De Carteret and Simon Lewis reported this story. George Grow adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

fluctuate – v. to rise and fall in uneven levels or amounts

eradication – n. the complete destruction of something

sustainable – adj. able to be depended or continued at set rates

altitudes – n. heights

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