Myanmar (Burma): World’s Top Opium Source, UN Reports

Myanmar (Burma):  World’s Top Opium Source, UN Reports

While Afghanistan slashes 95% of its opium supply, Burma’s (Myanmar’s) instability and civil-war like situation makes it the number one hub for opium production.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released a report on Tuesday highlighting Myanmar’s startling transformation into the world’s largest hub for opium production. This shift in global opium supply is attributed to a staggering 95% decline in cultivation in Afghanistan following a Taliban-imposed drug ban in 2022.

Burmese Army men in Poppy fields

The UNODC report underscores the nexus between Myanmar’s domestic instability, triggered by the 2021 coup, and the surge in opium farming. Driven by economic, security, and governance disruptions post-coup, remote areas witnessed a notable shift toward opium cultivation as a means of livelihood.

Opium farming has emerged as a money-spinning option for Myanmar farmers, offering a 75% increase in earnings. With opium prices reaching approximately $355 per kilogram (about 26,800 Indian rupees), the cultivation area surged by 18% annually, escalating from 40,100 to 47,000 hectares. This boost marks the highest potential yield since 2001, as per the UNODC.

Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC Regional Representative, expressed concern over the consequences of the military takeover and the subsequent socio-political unrest. He highlighted how these events have propelled farmers, particularly in remote regions, towards opium cultivation.

The expansion of opium cultivation was predominantly observed in Myanmar’s border regions, notably in northern Shan State, Chin, and Kachin states. Enhanced farming techniques contributed to a 16% increase in yield, reaching 22.9 kilograms per hectare, as outlined in the UNODC report.

Douglas warned of a probable acceleration in opium cultivation due to the escalating conflict between the Myanmar military and armed ethnic-minority groups. This surge in cultivation perpetuates an already thriving illicit (black-money) economy in Myanmar, encompassing rampant synthetic drug production, trafficking, and various criminal enterprises, from money laundering to organized online scam centers.

The report’s findings signal a concerning trend, where Myanmar’s turmoil has inadvertently positioned it as the epicenter of the global opium trade, fueling an extensive network of illegal activities.

The UNODC’s report underscores the urgency of addressing Myanmar’s socio-political upheaval and implementing strategies to alleviate the economic vulnerabilities driving its populace towards illicit activities.