Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Forests cleared for poppy plants

Forests serve as the reliable sources of timber and other wood-based products that could generate huge foreign exchange receipts when exported. But nowadays, the forests are also being explored and tapped for growing poppy plants.

But the trade-offs are tremendous to the environment because clearing of the forests alone was observed to have exerted undue pressures to the ecological balance of the land. According to a case-study made by the Trade and Environment Database of the American University’s School for International Service, thousands of acres of forests were illegally logged and used instead to plant marijuana and opium, which sell for hundreds of millions of dollars in the United States. The TED is a collection of case studies focusing on environmental issues.

Consequently, the land being used for this cash-crop have experienced soil erosion; and indigenous plants and animal species have been noted to be disappearing and the cultural tribe of the Tarhumara Indian tribe is threatened as well, the study said. The same problem was experienced in Burma, an oppressive regime believed to be engaged in the illegal drug trade in order to finance its military arsenals.

Narcotics, in the form of heroin or opium, are the by-products of poppies. Although treated as illegal products in some countries, poppies have legal uses such as for medical purposes. Opiate, for instance, is used for the production of painkillers such as morphine. While poppy seeds are used in baking breads, cakes and desserts around the world, the study further noted. But opium poppies are listed under U.S. law under Controlled Substance II, meaning of vegetable origin or chemical synthesis

From the jungles of the Golden Triangle, growing opium is popular among the cultural tribes of Afghanistan, the world’s largest opium producer. In the same study, it estimated that Afghanistan sold opium to the world markets totaling US$1 billion in 2002, almost 5% of its GDP. In 1990, Afghanistan’s poppies supplied about 70% of the world’s opium. But this was wiped out when the Taliban regime took control of the government. Later, the Taliban regime allowed the opium trade, after imposing heavy tax on the cash-crop. Records showed that about 70% of the heroin in Western Europe came from Afghanistan.

In some cases, opium for legal pharmaceutical use is allowed with the permission of the U.S. government, although most of them are grown outside the U.S., the TED noted. Although, some pharmaceutical companies produce chemically synthetic poppy plants to extract the necessary ingredients for medicinal purposes.

In South America, Mexico was identified as one of the primary sources of underground poppy trade. And the recent killings which claimed the lives of some police officers and journalists are manifestations that the drug trade has gone out of control. However, Afghanistan remains to be the single largest supplier of poppies to Western Europe. That is why the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is working out to abolish the illegal cultivation of the opium poppy by all possible means, the study cited.

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