Of all the problems faced by the world today, highland development and the production of drug-crops may be the most serious. Highland regions in developing countries are amongst the poorest regions in the world. Being socially, physically and economically marginal, they are, with few exceptions, afflicted by poverty and suffering. For these very same reasons, they are the locus of the production of drug-crops such as the opium poppy. As we all know, the production of drug-crops is a phenomenon which is problematic in many respects: where drug crops are produced, they damage environments, weaken societies, strengthen criminals and can create warlords whose power rivals that of nation states; in the regions through which they pass, they leave a trail of addiction and create channels for other crime such as human trafficking; in the countries where they are consumes they destroy the lives of users, fill prisons and turn the streets into battle-grounds. These problems also occurred in the highland areas of Thailand. Opium production was the Hill Tribe’s main cash crop for many years before starting the highland development programs.
Lead and inspired by Rama IX, His Majesty, King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his Royal Project, Thailand now has presided over a decline in annual opium production from over 200 tonnes to below 2 tonnes. It has been a multi-faceted effort, involving the work of hundreds of agencies, both Thai and international, and dozens of development projects. But none of these projects has been more successful than His Majesty the King’s own Royal Project, a project that the Highland Research and Development Institute (HRDI) is continuing and supporting. The achievements go beyond anything expected. It has introduced health services, social development and universal schooling and is closely cooperting with Hill Tribes. HRDI and indeed many other development agencies involved in the opium reduction campaign in Thailand, represent a repository of knowlegde and expertise that can be applied to combat the twinned evils of highland poverty and drug-crop production.