Vienna, 11 March 2008 - On March 11, 2008, Lao Minister Soubanh Srithirath, Minister to the President’s Office and Chair of the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision, together with UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive-Director Antonio Mario Costa and UNIDO Director-General Kandeh Yumkella, made a joint commitment to extend their programme to provide alternative income opportunities for former opium poppy growing communities in Laos. Minister Srithirath was in Vienna for the 51st Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) held from 10 to 14 March.

Lao PDR was once the third largest producer of illicit opium in the world. Ten years after the 1998 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) resolution, the country has reduced opium poppy cultivation and production by over 94%. That is not to say the problem is solved. The isolated ethnic groups that grew the poppies are poor and need an attractive and sustainable alternative to their opium income.

The current three-year joint UNODC-UNIDO programme began in December 2006, in the Hoon, La and Xai districts of Oudomxay, Laos, with US$2 million funding provided by the Japan-funded UN Trust Fund for Human Security (UNTFHS). In its first year the project focused on: rehabilitating opium addicts and involving them in income generating activities; establishing a productivity and marketing center; strengthening and training village productivity groups to contribute to rural economies; and organizing communities to manage the social development of their villages. Current activities focus on: enhancing the coverage and operation of the social services; and improving or constructing basic infrastructure. The third and final year of the project will: improve market access of products; and ensure that the income generation activities are sustainable.

The partners would like to extend the programme to cover the 1,100 villages in 32 of the poorest districts identified for priority assistance by the Lao National Poverty Reduction Programme. The current budget estimate for such a programme is in the vicinity of $US 40 million. In their efforts to mobilize these funds the partners will be drawing the attention of potential donors to the impact the programme is already having in its geographical focus area.

A very positive acknowledgement of that impact by the Mini Dublin Group for Lao, which visited the project in February this year should help drum up donor interest. The Mini Dublin Group was invited to get a first hand impression of what this pilot project does linking the expertise of two UN agencies. Minister Srithirath together with project staff and representatives of UNIDO, UNODC and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) accompanied the Group. As UNIDO Representative and Head of UNIDO's Regional Office in Bangkok, Ayumi Fujino, who was with the group said "The Mini Dublin Group was very impressed with progress, they saw for themselves how "appropriate production technology" was providing a sustainable alternative to opium production and improving livelihoods".

In addition to supporting funds mobilization efforts in general, the Group's positive impression of the joint UNODC-UNIDO programme may encourage member countries of the Mini-Dublin to support the expansion of the programme and to support the idea of further UNODC partnerships, both with UNIDO and other UN Organizations. Mini Dublin Groups are representatives from the Missions and Embassies of major anti-drug donor countries in drug-affected countries (see below for more).