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New book provides ground-breaking insight into illegal opium production

University Square Stratford

New book provides insight into illegal opium production

Governments in Asia and the Middle East need to incentivise opium farmers rather than punish them if they want to stamp out the illegal production of the crop. 

That is one of the key findings in a new book by Dr James Windle, a University of East London (UEL) lecturer, who has spent nine years researching the way different countries have tackled the illicit drug crop problem.

Opium is derived from the opium poppy and can be processed chemically to produce heroin.

Dr Windle’s book, Suppressing Illicit Opium Production: Successful Intervention in Asia and the Middle East, is the first book to document and compare cases where national governments have taken action.

Dr Windle, a senior lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice at UEL’s School of Business and Law, argues that if the farmers do not perceive any benefits in halting their activities, then the state often loses authority in opium-growing areas, and state authority is the foundation for any successful intervention.

“Interventions to suppress the production of illicit drug crops can be successful,” said Dr Windle. “National interventions can be humane and indeed those which are too repressive or attempt to eradicate farmers’ crops too early are bound to fail.”

Dr Windle, who has advised the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, began work on the book nine years ago as a PhD thesis.

Drawing upon a wide range of academic, official and non-governmental sources, including previously unidentified records in the British National Archives, Dr Windle provides detailed narratives of countries that have succeeded in halting drug crop production. The book draws out important lessons to be learned for improving the effectiveness of future interventions.

Among the archived documents examined by Dr Windle is a report on the intervention in China between 1906 and 1917, when opium farmers and their families were beaten, tortured and executed. In some areas, residents of entire villages were massacred as a warning to other opium farmers. 

“The intervention was so repressive, it was a contributing factor into the eventual fragmentation of the Chinese state, so it was counter-productive in the end,” said Dr Windle.

“Coming face to face with the cruel and inhumane treatment of farmers trying to survive and feed their families was really difficult to keep reading about, but it was necessary to build a full picture of what happened.”