The Central government has decided to rope in the private sector to commence production of concentrated poppy straw from India’s opium crop to boost their yield of alkaloids, used for medical purposes and exported to several countries.
Among the few countries permitted to cultivate the opium poppy crop for export and extraction of alkaloids, India currently only extracts alkaloids from opium gum at facilities controlled by the Revenue Department in the Finance Ministry. This entails farmers extracting gum by manually lancing the opium pods and selling the gum to government factories.
The Ministry has now decided to switch to new technologies, after trial cultivation reports submitted last year by two private firms showed higher extraction of alkaloids using the concentrated poppy straw (CPS).
“While alkaloid extraction from the current opium crop using the CPS was found more than opium gum, it is possible to have two-three crop cycles in one year if we use CPS varieties of seeds that can be grown in indoor greenhouses too,” said an official aware of the development. The outcome of the two trials conducted in the crop years of 2017-18 and 2018-19 were received in February 2020 and June 2020.
India’s opium crop acreage has been steadily declining over the years and using the CPS extraction method is expected to help cut the occasional dependence on imports of products like codeine (extracted from opium) for medical uses.
Amendments to NDPS Act
While roping in private players to partner with the government in producing CPS and extracting alkaloids from it is likely to require amendments to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985, the Department has decided to appoint a consultant to help frame the bidding parameters and concession agreements for the same.
“The consultant will be required to help frame the modalities for this endeavour, with an appropriate model including public-private partnership (PPP), advise on the changes needed to the rules and laws to facilitate this, and recommend security measures to protect the crop and the final product,” the official said.
The firms carrying out the trials faced legal hassles in terms of getting relevant licences from State governments to manufacture bulk alkaloids at their premises, which will need to be smoothed out. Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are the three traditionally opium growing States, where poppy crop cultivation is allowed based on licences issued annually by the Central Bureau of Narcotics.
As per the trials’ findings, the imported seeds of certain CPS varieties worked effectively in Indian fields and their narcotic raw material yield was much higher from imported seeds instead of those used currently.
“One of the firms purchased poppy straw of locally cultivated crop to analyse the yield from the same crop with the CPS method. They also cultivated CPS with hydroponic, aeroponic methods under a greenhouse environment. The other firm imported seeds from the U.K. and Australia, and carried out cultivation in association with an agriculture university,” the official said.