Opium: Uncovering the Politics of the Poppy

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Opium: Uncovering the Politics of the Poppy
by Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy
Harvard University Press, 2010
272 pp. $27.95
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Opium, the sap of poppies, is an addictive drug that can also be made into heroin and morphine. Poppy production has grown enormously in Afghanistan during the past decade, even while it has fallen in the "golden triangle" of Myanmar (also called Burma), Laos, and Thailand. Meanwhile, the United States has supported extensive eradication programs in several countries. This book traces the use of opium back to prehistoric times and sketches its complex and interesting history in Europe and especially in Asia, from ancient China and ancient Persia to modern times. It contends that opium production is intimately related to poverty and food insecurity, that eradication programs have inevitably failed to suppress opium production, and that the only way to reduce opium production is to address its economic and social sources by providing livelihoods superior to poppy production. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the labor-intensive production of opium is not highly lucrative to the poppy farmers; it does, however, compare favorably to alternative crops in the states where it is produced.