India's opium export, like exports of other goods, is showing a downward trend.
However, unlike exports of other goods, which have been affected by the economic slowdown, the reason for fall in exports of opium is entirely different.
India is the only country in the world to legally produce gum opium for export, for the pharmaceutical industry. However, exports to the US and Japan, the main importers, have been falling for the past couple of years.
"The exports have not dwindled but they have stagnated," said a finance ministry official.
According to the official, the stagnation could be due to the fact that while the world has shifted to a much more modern system of concentrate of poppy straw method, India is still using the traditional method of extracting gum, which is a tedious and expensive one. Most countries now prefer importing CPS.
Under CPS, the entire poppy plant is cut, after the opium in the capsules have dried, and sent to the factory to be washed with chemicals. The resulting mixture is a concentrate of poppy straw (CPS), with a higher percentage of morphine than the latex.
On the other hand, in the conventional method, after the petals fall from the poppy, the pod is lanced to collect opium latex or gum. Opium latex has to be cooked repeatedly to produce morphine, making it a lengthy process, especially given the shortage of fuels for the process.
"The US also wants India to stop producing with the opium latex method, and go to the 'poppy straw' method," according to the official.
Another reason for downward trend of export could be the price, said the official. For instance, in 2008-09, opium was sold at $7.3 per amorphous morphine unit, which buyers might have found expensive. The government has corrected this by lowering the price this year to $6.65 per AMU to keep up with the fall in prices of opium extracted from concentrated poppy. Incidentally, one kg of opium contain 12 AMUs.
India is the only country authorised by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) to produce gum opium. Eleven other countries -- Australia, Austria, France, China, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain Turkey and Czech Republic -- cultivate opium poppy, but they do not extract gum.