Opium poppy cultivation has grown in Myanmar since the military seized power in 2021, with a decline in illicit crops between 2014 and 2020, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.
Myanmar saw a 33 percent increase in opium poppy cultivation and an 88 percent increase in opium production in 2022, according to data collected by the UNODC in the first opium growing season since the military seized power in February 2021.
The figures, which equate to more than 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres) of poppy cultivated last year in Myanmar and a possible harvest of 790 tons of opium – a drug that can be converted into heroin, according to the UN. .
“The 2022 results confirm that the opium economy is growing rapidly in Myanmar,” UNODC said in a statement released on Thursday to accompany the publication of the Myanmar Opium Survey 2022.
A perfect storm of “economic, security and governance disruptions” after the military takeover of Myanmar has combined to create a boom in opium cultivation, UNODC regional representative Jeremy Douglas said.
“Remote farmers who are often involved in conflict in the northern Shan and border areas have no choice but to return to opium,” Douglas said.
The Golden Triangle – the jungle area where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet – has long been a very profitable place for drug trafficking, and developments in Myanmar show that the region seems to be re-connecting with the international drug market. , according to the UN.
According to a UN study, the increase in opium cultivation has been accompanied by the production of drugs made in Myanmar, which continues to grow, “and the drug economy in the country and surrounding areas is generating huge profits”.
The region’s heroin trade is estimated to be worth $10bn, while the value of Myanmar’s opiate economy reached $2bn, according to the study.
“Continued opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar will have a significant impact on the drug economy in the Mekong region,” the study said.
The ‘Golden Triangle’ is also connecting with the global market
Opium farmers in Myanmar see very little profit from the local and international drug trade, although opium growers last year saw an increase in their income from the “farm-gate” price paid to farmers due to opium is increasing at about approx. 70 percent to $ 280 / kg.
And the increase in the prices of poppy farmers remained stable despite the increase in the yield last year, which showed “the attractiveness of opium as a crop and commodity”, according to the UN, and “the great growth in demand as opium in the Golden Triangle. and heroin trade is seen that they are also connected to the global market”.
Several of the problems facing military-ruled Myanmar – where a civil war between the army and the army has left thousands dead and where 1.2 million have been displaced since the occupation – are directly related to the growing opium cultivation.
Importantly, the UN also notes that Myanmar authorities’ poppy eradication efforts – often carried out by the police and military – have dropped significantly since 2021, with 1,403 hectares (3,466 acres) destroyed in 2022, representing a 70 percent drop. poppy was discontinued in 2021.
“The growth we are seeing in the drug business is directly related to the problems the world is facing. The impact of the region is huge, and the country’s neighbors need to assess and manage the situation, and they need to consider other difficult options,” said Douglas of UNODC.
As the UN report shows, “farmers earned more than twice as much money from opium as last year” – a beautiful economic perspective at a time of social instability and an economy suffering from the effects of military occupation and now civil war.
“Post-terrorist political instability, economic instability, inflation, and high opium prices are influencing domestic elections. Together, these economic indicators can provide a strong incentive for farmers to start growing opium poppy,” said the UN report.
Improved farming methods and access to fertilizers are responsible for the average opium yield in Myanmar’s poppy fields increasing to around 20kg (44 pounds) per hectare – a 41 percent increase compared to 2021, according to the study. Such yields per hectare “are the highest in Myanmar since UNODC began measuring them”, the UN said.
However, as the UN points out, the increase in income earned by opium farmers “is not just about purchasing goods” because the country is experiencing inflation, currency depreciation, and the cost of fertilizers, fuel and transportation.
Crop damage increases the risk
The region of Myanmar where the most people grow opium was the Shan region, where they registered an increase of 39 percent, followed by Chin region which increased by 14 percent, Kayah region increased by 11 percent, and Kachin increased by only 3 percent.
The Shan State “continued to be Myanmar’s largest producer”, according to the UN, accounting for about 84 percent of the country’s total opium poppy production.
The report also highlights the importance of Myanmar’s border areas – with Thailand, China and India – in terms of agricultural land.
In the Shan region, “cultivation is scattered in the southeast and south along the borders of Thailand. The most intensively cultivated areas were found in the south-eastern hills bordering Wa region”, the report says.
“In the northwestern part of Kachin state and the eastern part of Myitkyina city, near the international border with China, there was a very large cultivation. Chin State showed a lot of poppy cultivation in the mountains north of the town of Tonzang, near the border of countries and India. In the Kayah region, poppy cultivation is mostly scattered,” according to a UN survey.
Addressing the problem will require addressing the challenges facing opium-growing communities, including isolation, economic insecurity, and the growing conflict in Myanmar.
“At the end of the day, opium cultivation really has an economic impact, and it cannot be solved by destroying crops that only increase the risk,” said UNODC Myanmar Country Director, Benedikt Hofmann.
Without financial stability and without alternatives, “it is possible that the cultivation and production of opium will continue to grow”, said Hofmann.