Ecuador Fights Expanding Poppy Cultivation

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Authorities have destroyed 188,000 poppy plants in rural Ecuador, providing another indication that heroin’s primary material is increasingly being cultivated in the Andean nation.

In a collaborative effort with anti-narcotics police and the Attorney General’s Office, the Ecuadorean military destroyed 62,000 lilac poppies and 126,000 red poppies, according to an official press release. The poppies were found in the community of Aupud, in Chimborazo province, in central Ecuador’s Andes mountains.

The production of all plants that can be used to produce drugs is illegal in Ecuador, though peasants claim that poppy crops grow wild. While wild red poppies contain little or no morphine, lilac poppies serve as the primary material for heroin and opium.

InSight Crime Analysis

While Ecuador is considered a major transit nation for cocaine shipments, and increasingly a producer, its role in the heroin trade is fairly small compared to Mexico and Colombia.Colombia is considered the main supplier of heroin to the US according to the UNODC, though heroin production has declined over the past decade, while Mexico is now believed to supply seven percent of the world’s heroin.

Nonetheless, Ecuador’s role in the heroin trade is not insignificant, if judged by seizures. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 160 kilos of heroin were seized in the country in 2011 — as compared with 700 kilos in Mexico and 540 kilos in Colombia — and the US reported an increase in this number for 2012, with 185 kilos seized.

Poppy production appears to have become more established in Ecuador, and to be increasing. The US reported 1.8 million poppy plants destroyed in the country in 2012, compared with 22,149 opium poppy plants in 2011, but failed to distinguish between opium poppy and wild poppy for the 2012 figures, making comparison difficult. Recent eradications — particularly in Chimborazo province — also point to increased production. In 2011, authorities eradicated a small poppy field in Cotopaxi province, and in 2012, 411,000 and 120,000 plants were destroyed in Chimborazo in two separate operations.

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