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Myanmar is now world’s largest source of opium, UN says

Bangkok, Thailand

Myanmar has become the world’s largest source of opium, thanks to domestic instability and a decline in cultivation in Afghanistan, the United Nations said in a report on Tuesday.

The 95 per cent decline in opium cultivation in Afghanistan after a drug ban by the Taliban in 2022 has seen global supply shifted to Myanmar, where political, social and economic instability brought about by a 2021 coup drove many to poppy farming, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime report said.

A dried poppy is seen in a field next to a mulberry farm in Tangyan township in Lashio District, northern Shan State, Myanmar, on 22nd April, 2018.

A dried poppy is seen in a field next to a mulberry farm in Tangyan township in Lashio District, northern Shan State, Myanmar, on 22nd April, 2018. PICTURE: Reuters/Ann Wang/File photo

Myanmar farmers now earn about 75 per cent more from opium poppy farming, as average prices of the flower have reached about $US355 per kilogram and the cultivation area has increased by 18 per cent year on year, from 40,100 to 47,000 hectares, boosting the potential yield to its highest level since 2001, the UNODC said.

“The economic, security and governance disruption that followed the military takeover of February, 2021, continue to drive farmers in remote areas towards opium to make a living,” UNODC Regional Representative Jeremy Douglas said.

Opium cultivation areas expanded most in Myanmar’s border regions in northern Shan State, followed by Chin and Kachin states, as yield expanded by 16% to 22.9 kilogrammes per hectare because of more sophisticated farming practices, UNODC report said.

The surge in fighting between the Myanmar military and armed ethnic-minority groups will most likely accelerate the expansion of opium cultivation, Douglas said. 

The Myanmar junta did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The expansion of opium cultivation feeds into a growing illicit economy in Myanmar that include high levels of synthetic drug production and trafficking as well as other criminal enterprises from money laundering to online scam centres run by organised crime.



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