Growing opium

Opium is obtained from the seed capsules of the opium poppy. Approximately 12 percent of opium is made up of morphine, which is processed chemically to produce heroin and other synthetic opioids for medicinal use and for the illegal drug trade.

Opium farming was introduced to Myanmar more than a century ago. Since then, the cultivation of opium has become the major livelihood of many people who live in the highland areas of eastern and northern Myanmar: i.e. Shan and Kachin States.

Read the article below and complete the sentences with NO MORE than TWO WORDS from the reading.

Remember! Check your incorrect answers to learn from your mistakes!

  1. The _______ in Myanmar's mountain areas is excellent for growing opium poppies.

  2. Money earned by _______ for cultivating opium is extremely low.

  3. Ethnic armed groups and militias ensure that ______ are well protected.

  4. A disadvantage of growing opium is that it needs a lot of _______.

  5. When opium is not being grown, dealers provide farmers with goods ______.

  6. People on the remote highland region use opium as a ______ for many health problems.

  7. Income from opium cultivation is used by farmers to access education and _______

  8. The profit that opium farmers receive is a small _______ of the value of the drug when it is sold in developed countries.


It is a difficult situation for opium farmers in the remote and mountainous parts of Myanmar. The inaccessibility of these mountainous regions, combined with extreme weather, make it difficult to grow other cash crops in these areas. However, the scattered fertile spots of limestone soil in these areas are an ideal terrain for poppy cultivation. This has resulted in Myanmar becoming the second-largest source of the world’s opium supply, producing some 25% of the world's opium.

The opium trade generates money for virtually everyone in the area, albeit in vastly disparate amounts. The farmers who grow the poppies earn a pittance from months of laborious work in the fields. It is other people who earn fortunes to buy houses and open shops in big cities of Myanmar as well as in neighboring countries: the merchants who buy opium from the farmers and carry it to the markets to sell; ethnic armed groups and local militias who provide security for trading routes; and corrupt law enforcement officials who close their eyes to let it happen.

Opium as a cash crop has various advantages. Although it requires more maintenance than any other crop, once the sap has been gathered it can be kept for a long time, it is easy to store and it fetches a good price on a guaranteed market – a higher price per weight than anything else cultivated on earth. As a result, traders are prepared to travel up to the mountain villagers every year to purchase it. Traders then sell rice and other commodities on credit during the off-season and collect the repayment in opium. Meanwhile, opium also functions as a general currency in the hills between villages and the members of different ethnic groups, and most things can be exchanged for it. 

In addition, there are important cultural and health-related reasons for the cultivation of opium. Due to its medicinal values as an analgesic, cough suppressant and treatment for diarrhea, opium has been the main traditional medicine that villagers in the remote highland areas rely upon to cure most of their sicknesses. Furthermore, opium farmers in Myanmar not only resort to the income from opium to buy them the access to the modern healthcare service, they also use it to send their children to school. 

The multibillion-dollar global drug economy is characterised by corruption and taxation— extracted by both government representatives and ethnic armed organizations—while drug trafficking organizations often provide farmers with their only source of income.  At the bottom of this supply chain, caught in the middle of the uncertainty and violent conflict endemic in these territories, are the farmers and their families. The meager profit left for the farmers’ own pockets is a tiny fraction of the street value of opium, whose price skyrockets once it hits the market in developed economies.

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