UN claims opium cultivation in Myanmar has almost doubled

BANGKOK, 26 Jan 2023:

The cultivation of opium in Myanmar rose 88% in 2022 compared to the previous year, a record increase that is explained by the economic crisis in the country since the military seized power in a coup in 2021, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.

The authors of the “Myanmar Opium Survey 2022: Cultivation, Production and Implications,” released today, estimate that opium production in 2022 reached 790 tonnes – 88% more than the 420 tonnes cultivated the previous year.

Production last year was also double that of 2020, when it fell to 400 tonnes.

“Farmers in remote, often conflict-prone areas… have had little option but to move back to opium (…) Farmers see opium as a guarantee for income,” UNODC Regional Representative Jeremy Douglas said while presenting the report in Bangkok.

“Opium is an employment opportunity,” added Douglas, who linked the increase in production with a decline in foreign investment since the coup and the economic crisis, worsened by the Covid19 pandemic and high inflation in the country.

The increase in production was reflected in a 33% increase in cultivated area – the first increase in six years – and also a 41% improvement in productivity due to better weather conditions last year, greater access to fertilisers and modernisation due to better cooperation between farmers and dealers.

Efforts to eradicate plantations also appeared to wane as authorities removed 70% fewer crops than the previous year.

Opium poppy cultivation rose the most in the eastern Shan State, bordering China, Thailand and Laos, with an increase of 39%.

Douglas acknowledged that corruption “greases the wheels of drug trade” but avoided direct criticism of the military junta, saying trafficking takes place in areas controlled by the junta and also those controlled by different ethnic groups.

“Everybody gets money” from this business, he said.

The UN representative called the data worrying for the region as it will lead to an increase in the supply of heroin – made from opium resin – not only in traditional consumer countries, including China and Vietnam, but also in others, such as Malaysia and Australia.

“if the trend continues it will have a significant impact on the societies.”