Growers claim bumper harvest
Growers claim bumper harvest
Farmers across the Thai border have maintained that the season's output was greater than any other years in the past despite the hard life under the Burmese military.
"Even under Khun Sa, the total harvest was much less than this year," was the view held by a native of Namarkti, a village between Homong and Mongton. "There are 14 villages between the Maekun (in the west) and Soppart (in the east). Every one of them has poppy fields, some right at their doorsteps. And all of them raise two crops."
According to the villagers, there are about 30 Chinese bosses, "70% of them Kokang Chinese from Mongton and 30% from Thailand", while the farm hands are Pa-O, Shan and Lisaw. "We have become so dependent on these pawliangs (bosses) that some of us have already borrowed money from them to be repaid by the next season," said a villager from Kiukaw.
One reason for the dependence was pointed out by another farmer as drug addiction especially to methamphetamines. "Many of the villagers use Yaba (methamphetamine) to stimulate themselves while working in the poppy fields," he elaborated.
According to him, 40% of the local people are using drugs. The ratio of male and female users is believed to be about 3:1.
The output estimates range from 9-18 tons for the whole area between the border with Karenni (Kayah) and Mongton, once known as Free Shan Territory under warlord Khun Sa until he surrendered in 1996. A villager close to a pawliang said, "Each household produces at least 6 viss (1 viss=1.6 kg), but some as much as 20 viss."
Both Burmese and Wa units in the area appear to be tolerant to the villagers' drug activities by all accounts. "On 18 February, a patrol from IB 226 arrived in Kiukaw," explained a farmer, "and we treated them to a generous feast and paid them 18,000 baht and 4.5 viss of opium as tax. Two days later, they got to Htamwo, where they received 20,000 baht and 4 viss of opium. Apart from these two villages, they let the local militia of Yang Erh from Kawng Teevee take care of the tax collection for them."
There are some 30 soldiers from Infantry Battalion 226 stationed at Sanklarng and about 50 fighters from the United Wa State Army's 171st Military Region at the nearby Sanzu, both opposite Maehongson's Pang Mapha District.
Rangoon has vowed to cut down the output by 50% to 400 tons this year. But border observers have noted that the dramatic decrease in northern Shan State has been offset by the sharp increase in the south and east.
Opium produced in the east normally
fetches better prices because of its richer content.
It is 11,000 baht per viss in Mongton, with opium from Loi Khilek, west of the township seat, getting even better prices: 11,500 - 12,000, while it is 8,000 - 8,500 baht for opium coming from the west. The local militia was buying it at 6,000 - 8,000 baht per viss in November.
Meanwhile, the prices of yaba (methamphetamines) has gone down in the township: 4 baht wholesale and 5 baht retail per pill. In the adjoining Thai district of Fang, prices have quadrupled since the War on Drugs campaign began in February: 100 baht wholesale and 150 retail.