Published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

In recent years there have been growing calls for ‘development-oriented drug policies’ to tackle illicit drug cultivation in the global South. Calls to integrate drugs and development have been important in demonstrating the damage caused by the war on drugs to marginalised communities and in drawing attention to how drug cultivation is inextricably linked to wider development challenges.

This paper, however, argues that the emerging policy agenda to ‘developmentalise’ drug policy is founded upon a simplified and misleading conceptualisation of the relationship between poverty, development and illicit drug cultivation.

Most problematically, it overlooks the fact that people who cultivate drugs because they are poor are not just those who have been ‘left behind’ by development. They are also those who have experienced new forms of immiseration and precarity as a consequence of processes of economic liberalisation, market integration and agricultural ‘modernization’.

Confronting this blind spot, this article analyses the drivers of rising illicit opium cultivation across parts of Shan State, Myanmar, since the late 1990s. The paper argues that if the current agenda to developmentalise drug policy is to make a meaningful contribution to the lives of the rural poor in drug-producing regions in Myanmar and beyond, it must confront the fact that for many households the decision to cultivate opium has been a response to the very processes of market-led rural development that policymakers claim will alleviate poverty.