United Nations report published on Tuesday indicates that Myanmar surpassed Afghanistan as the world’s leading producer of opium in 2023, following a crackdown on the trade by the Taliban government.
In the current year, Myanmar reportedly manufactured 1,080 tonnes of opium, a crucial ingredient in the production of heroin, as stated in the most recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
According to the UNODC, opium production in Afghanistan decreased by an estimated 95 percent to approximately 330 tonnes in April of last year, after the Taliban prohibited poppy cultivation.
Particularly methamphetamine and opium, the “Golden Triangle” border region between Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand has long been a hub for the production and trafficking of illicit drugs.
Myanmar’s Opiate Economy
UNODC estimates that the “opiate economy” in Myanmar has increased in value to between $1 billion and $2.4 billion, or 1.7 to 4.1 percent of the country’s GDP in 2022. According to the report, Myanmar produced an estimated 790 kilograms of opium last year.
Since the military usurped power in 2021, conflict and instability have ravaged Myanmar’s legal economy, compelling many farmers to cultivate poppy.
The report states that inadequate market access, inadequate state infrastructure, and escalating inflation “appears to have significantly influenced farmers’ decisions to cultivate more poppy in late 2022.”
The UNODC estimated that opium production peaked at its greatest level in over two decades during the 2022-23 period.
Additionally, according to the UNODC, poppy cultivation in Myanmar was advancing in sophistication as a result of increased investment and improved practices, such as the potential use of fertilizers and enhanced irrigation, which increased crop yields.
Agriculture in Afghanistan, which has been the leading global producer for several years, has experienced a significant decline subsequent to the Taliban regime’s declaration of intention to cease illicit drug manufacturing.
Prior to 2023, poppy cultivation covered only 10,800 hectares, whereas in 2022, poppy cultivation occupied 233,000 hectares, or nearly one-third, of the nation’s total agricultural output by value.
Shan State Opium
Shan state is the primary agricultural region in Myanmar. However, in recent weeks, fighting has erupted in the northern portion of the state following the initiation of an offensive by an alliance of ethnic minority armed groups against the junta and its allies.
Approximately 88 percent of the 41,300 hectares (102,054 acres) of opium cultivation areas in the United States were located in Shan, according to a United Nations report.
The average anticipated opium yield per hectare in eastern Shan increased from 19.8 kilogrammes in 2022 to 29.4 kilogrammes in 2023, according to the report.
Ranging from jungle-covered hills to ravines, Shan state comprises nearly a quarter of Myanmar’s total land area.
A multitude of ethnic armed groups, each with access to tens of thousands of well-equipped combatants, control vast swaths of the state, which the United Nations identifies as the principal methamphetamine producer in Southeast Asia.
Analysts assert that certain juntas have granted autonomous enclaves to their administration, which contain weapons factories, casinos, and brothels.
Agriculture had also increased in northern Kachin state and Chin state, which shares a border with India, according to the United Nations.
The military, which seized power in 2021 after toppling an elected government, is reportedly not sincere about ending the multibillion-dollar trade, according to analysts.
Earlier this year, the head of Myanmar’s Central Committee on Drug Abuse Control made a rare admission that the country’s efforts to eradicate the drug trade were in vain.