Desperate Indian farmers now growing opium poppies

As in Afghanistan, in northern India opium has become such a lucrative cash crop that many local farmers rely on poppy cultivation, seeing it as the only way to survive.

The trend comes from neighbouring Nepal where parallels with Afghanistan are already frightening: corruption, lack of investment and poverty, with poppy fields completing the picture.

The Indian police regularly discover fields of opium poppies growing in the northern state of Bihar on the India-Nepal border where the illegal crop is giving the administration a headache. The state shares a long border with Nepal, one of the largest markets for opium. No wonder, then, that this area is popular with opium cultivators due to the lack of security and awareness among the local people.

Police official Ram Kumar noted that “People are growing this [poppy] by fooling the local farmers. They are told they are growing sunflowers, but it turns out to be poppy.”

The lure of money stops residents from asking too many questions. With a severe lack of rainfall every year, the drought-resistant opium poppy is a profitable crop.

Opium farming is prohibited in India, but the farmers say they have no other choice.

“What else can we grow? When our normal crops are failing, and we have to feed our families, we have no other option,” complains farmer Mahesh Parhit.

An opium plant grows in just three months, and one kilogram of opium generates at least $US 700 for the opium growers, which are good wages to local farmers and labourers. The police could destroy one poppy field, but that does not solve the larger problem.

“Instead of destroying this crop, the officials should provide us with jobs. There is no other way for us to survive,” insists farmer Sona Lal.

For the Indian police this may seem to be a simple law and order problem, but for the villagers it is a matter of their livelihoods. As long as poppy cultivation remains profitable, the poppy crop will be growing on the India-Nepal border. No matter how many times the police destroy the lucrative crop, the fields will once again be full of poppies.