Zhou Xing Ci’s family have farmed poppies for as long as anyone remembers, scraping the flowers’ sticky brown sap to produce opium.
Along with many other farmers in the hills of eastern Myanmar, the crop – much of which ends up as heroin sold on foreign streets – has in recent years put Myanmar behind only Afghanistan as the world’s leading source of opium.
A Chinese company working with farmers like Zhou hopes the silk-producing larva can help the farmers, and their country, quit the drug.
“Growing opium is too tough. It’s only one harvest every year and a rain can easily destroy a whole year’s work,” said Zhou.
The UN agency has assisted more than 1,000 farmers to switch from opium to another cash crop, coffee, since 2014, said Troels Vester, UNODC country manager for Myanmar.
Still, 41,000 hectares of poppy was planted in Myanmar last year, the agency said. Farmers in conflict areas were less likely to have moved to licit crops, it added.
In the corner of Myanmar where Zhou lives, bordering China’s Yunnan province, various armed groups operate and the law is barely enforced, providing a haven for opium traders, as well as heroin producers and meth-lab operators.
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