West News Wire: According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium poppy production has increased dramatically in Myanmar since the military took control in 2021, reversing a consistent reduction that was observed in the illegal crop between 2014 and 2020.
According to data gathered by the UNODC during the first full opium growing season since the military’s seizure of power in February 2021, Myanmar observed a 33 percent increase in opium poppy production and an 88 percent increase in the potential opium yield in 2022.
With a potential yield of 790 metric tonnes of opium, the highly addictive drug that may be processed to manufacture heroin, that translates to little more than 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres) of poppy cultivation in Myanmar last year.
“The 2022 results confirm a significant expansion is under way of Myanmar’s opium economy,” the 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” following the military’s takeover in Myanmar have converged to create the current conditions in which opium cultivation is growing, UNODC regional representative, Jeremy Douglas, said.
“Farmers in remote often conflict-prone areas in northern Shan and border states have had little option but to move back to opium,” Douglas said.
The Golden Triangle – a jungle territory where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet – has long been a lucrative hub for the illegal drug trade, and the trend in Myanmar indicates that the region now appears to be reconnecting to the global market in narcotics, according to the UN.
According to the UN’s survey, the increase in opium cultivation has taken place in tangent with the production of synthetic drugs in Myanmar, which have continued to expand, “with the drug economy in the country and surrounding region generating substantial profits”.
The regional heroin trade is estimated to be worth a staggering $10bn, while the value of Myanmar’s overall opiate economy ranged up to $2bn, according to the survey.
More sophisticated farming techniques and access to fertiliser were likely the reasons for the average opium yield in Myanmar’s poppy fields increasing to almost 20kg (44 pounds) per hectare – an increase of 41 percent compared with 2021, according to the survey.
The UNODC’s Douglas addressed the likely regional effect at a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand, on Thursday.
“So we’re looking at an increased heroin supply which will largely be feeding into the Asian market itself,” Douglas said.
“There’s still a very significant level of heroin use within China, within Vietnam, within other countries in the region and this brings with it, of course, challenges for public health systems and the need for harm reduction and other services,” he said.
“So we are going to see some impact on the broader region itself.”