North Korea is drastically increasing heroin production to earn hard currency, Fox News reported on Tuesday. Analysis of satellite images of the Yodok political prison camp in South Hamgyong Province provided by Amnesty International on May 3 suggests that poppy fields on land around the camp grew by some 130,000 sq.m or about 15-fold since 2001.
"These are poppy fields and have been since we first looked at the camp in 2001," one expert told the tabloid channel. The North's total exports of heroin are estimated at around US$1 billion annually, Fox News added.
It quoted Chuck Downs of activist group Committee for Human Rights in North Korea as saying that the military, which runs the camps and poppy fields, does not "allow food production by prisoners because they would steal it. [It] would rather grow drugs."
Since the 1990s, when the North Korean regime first turned to making heroin, "production has seesawed depending on the success of other exports, like missiles." "Even more startling than the state's involvement in heroin production is its use of its diplomatic corps to beat customs inspections in order to distribute the heroin," claimed Bruce Klingner, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The regime is concentrating on heroin production due to recent price increases. In April, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said international heroin prices more than tripled from $69 last year to $281 per kg this year as a result of poppy blight last year and dwindling supplies after years of crackdowns on opium production and transactions.
Poppy production has been rising in countries like Afghanistan and North Korea because the flowers grow well even in poor soil without irrigation and produce eight times the average profits of crops such as wheat and rice, the journal Foreign Policy said. Europe and North America are the major consumers of heroin.