Opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar is estimated to be up by 33 per cent compared to the previous season, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2022 opium survey report. The area under cultivation has increased by around 10,000 hectares, it says, with farmers also using ‘more sophisticated’ practices.
The report covers the first season since the military takeover in the country in 2021, with the increase in cultivation recorded against a backdrop of ‘significant social, economic, security and governance disruptions’, says UNODC. Whereas previous poppy plots tended to be small and poorly organised, the evidence collected last year points to increasing sophistication and higher density ‘hotspots’. The national yield estimates indicate an average of almost 20kg of opium per hectare, the highest ever since UNODC started measuring.
An increase in prices combined higher production means that farmers will have earned more than twice as much from opium in 2022 than in the previous year, the document points out. COVID-19 left Myanmar’s economy ‘critically weak’ and this, combined with the military takeover, has pushed more rural households to rely on opium, with the estimated value of the country’s opiate economy now anything up to US$ 2bn – around 3 per cent of GDP.
Myanmar is the world’s second largest producer of opium after Afghanistan, with UNODC warning in 2021 that the world’s drug markets could be ‘flooded’ with Afghan heroin following a significant increase in the opium harvest there (www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/drug-markets-could-be-flooded-with-afghan-heroin-warns-unodc). Following the Taliban’s takeover of the country and subsequent ban on opium production, cultivation increased by 32 per cent, says UNODC, with increasing prices leading to a tripling of income for farmers.
Opium cultivation in Myanmar had previously been declining for almost a decade following a surge in synthetic drug production, particularly methamphetamine. ‘Economic, security and governance disruptions that followed the military takeover have converged, and farmers in remote, often conflict-prone areas in northern Shan and border states have had little option but to move back to opium,’ said UNODC regional representative Jeremy Douglas. ‘At the end of the day, opium cultivation is really about economics, and it cannot be resolved by destroying crops which only escalates vulnerabilities. Without alternatives and economic stability, it is likely that opium cultivation and production will continue to expand.’