for food crops (Afghanistan), used for tobacco (Turkey), or alternated with maize (Southeast Asia) by the farmers (Finetto 2008).

Plants are propagated from seed, which is often sown by broadcasting seeds mixed with soil or sand to ensure even distribution. In Thailand, poppy seeds are mixed with lettuce, bean, mustard, and parsley seeds (Finetto 2008). Poppy grown in Lao PDR is most commonly grown at high elevations in mountainous regions (UNODC 2010c). After germination, plants are thinned to optimize plant health.

Opium poppy is usually a spring or winter crop, having been sown in September-March (UNODC 2010c). Multistage cropping—growing poppy in different periods in a single field—is often seen in areas where eradication efforts have occurred (UNODC 2010c). Seeds are sown multiple times in the same field so that harvest of the poppies is staggered. That not only protects the farmer from potential eradication—interdiction sweeps are rarely performed twice on the same plot—but makes harvest more manageable for areas where there is a shortage of labor (UNODC 2010c). Depending on the cultivar, climate, elevation, and sowing date, the crop will be harvestable 120-250 days later. Moisture is a key element in opium production; crops that are irrigated are found to produce more of the desired alkaloids (Finetto 2008). Poppy that is harvested during warm, dry weather is likely to have higher morphine content than that harvested during cool, wet weather. In areas where snowfall occurs, it is most beneficial if the first snow falls before the first frost. The snow protects the poppy; if frost gets to the plants, the farmers risk losing the crop (Finetto 2008).

About 3 months after the seeds are sown, the plants (now waist-high) begin to blossom (Kapoor 1995). The petals fall from the flower in about 3 days; after an additional 10-14 days, the capsules are ready to lance, and harvesting of opium begins (Kapoor 1995). The morphine content decreases as the capsule ripens (Kapoor 1995). Timing and tools vary, but all collection of gum from opium poppies involves using a sharpened, knife-like tool to incise the capsule. The opium sap oozes from the lacerated capsules and is left to dry and harden. The laceration must be precise: if it is too shallow, only a small amount of sap will exude; if it is too deep, the sap will seep into the inner compartment of the capsule (Kapoor 1995). The capsules are scored in this manner several times every 2-3 days. After each cutting, the milky sap that oozes from the capsule is allowed to dry to a sticky, dark gum, which is harvested on the next day. Harvesting of a single plot can take 14-18 days but can take up to 3 weeks if production is exceptionally high. The largest determinant of harvesting time is the available labor force.

Once the capsules have been lanced and all the gum has been collected, they are left in the fields to mature over the next 20-25 days. The fully matured capsules are removed, spread out in plots to dry, and processed to obtain the seeds for the next planting (Kapoor 1995). A 1-hectare plot can produce 60,000-120,000 poppy plants, or 120,000-250,000 capsules. The labor involved in the cultivation of opium poppy is immense; the time and physical effort required to



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement