The number of Chinese companies investing to develop alternative crops to poppy growing in the Golden Triangle has risen from 42 to 180 since 2005, with total financial investment up to 1 billion yuan ($157 million) during that time, according to a Chinese official.
Yang Jun, the deputy director of overseas poppy substitution development for Yunnan Province's commerce department, said many Chinese companies have become involved in efforts to give farmers in the Golden Triangle alternatives to growing opium poppies, bringing profits to communities in Southeast Asia and China.
The enterprises have conducted more than 200 poppy-alternative planting programs and developed their projects mainly in the northern part of Burma and Laos, he said, in an article published in China Daily on Monday.
The Golden Triangle, which includes parts of Burma, Thailand and Laos, is about 200,000 square kilometers and has been the major source of drugs in China since the 1990s, making it the main focus of the poppy substitution work, Yang said.
In the past five years, more than 200,000 hectares in that area have been planted in substitutiokn crops, such as sugar cane, corn, tea and tropical fruit, he told the newspaper.
“These programs attracted many farmers who used to live on poppy planting in that region and workers of the companies also taught them how to plant rubber in line with local geographical conditions,” Yang said, adding that poppy growing has almost become extinct in the crop substitution areas. Previously, poppies were the main crop in those area, he said.
However, law enforcement officers and experts said it is too early to say the crop substitution program has succeeded and such programs are are still needed.
“The alternative planting is still hard work for our country's drug enforcement efforts, because the opium planting in the northern part of Burma has been increasing again since 2007,” said Rao Jie, a senior officer at Baoshan city's frontier defense corps, a special police unit directly under the Ministry of Public Security.
An expert specializing in the criminal investigation department at the Chinese People's Public Security University agreed, according to the China Daily article.
“The political situation has been unstable recently, which is also a big difficulty for our country to develop crop substitution in that area," he said. "Meanwhile, various types of precursor chemicals, used as raw materials to make synthetic drugs, have also presented a new challenge to the anti-drug campaign.”
In Burma, crop substitution programs are be implemented by the Burmese government, the United Nations and by groups such as the Chinese businessmen.