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Opium cultivation soars since Myanmar army seizes power: UN

Opium Poppy cultivation surges in Myanmar Since the military took power in 2021, the steady decline seen in illegal crops between 2014 and 2020 has been reversed, says the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

In Myanmar, data collected by UNODC during the first full opium growing season since the military took power in February 2021 show that opium poppy cultivation will increase by 33% in 2022, increasing potential Opium production increased by 88%.

In numbers, that equates to just over 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres). Poppies grown last year in Myanmar According to United Nations agencies, 790 tons of opium could be produced.

“The 2022 results confirm that a significant expansion of Myanmar’s opium economy is underway,” UNODC said in a statement released Thursday accompanying the release of the Myanmar Opium Survey 2022.

UNODC Regional Director Jeremy Douglas described the current situation in which opium cultivation is growing after a complete storm of “economic, security and governance chaos” following the military takeover in Myanmar. said to have created

“Farmers in remote and often conflict-prone areas in the northern Shan and border states had little choice but to return to opium,” said Douglas.

A Myanmar farmer showing raw opium in a poppy field in Lone Tuel village, Loiren Township, Shan State, Southern Myanmar, 2014 [File: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA]

Golden Triangle – Jungle Territory Borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar According to the United Nations, Myanmar has long been a lucrative hub for the illegal drug trade, and trends in Myanmar show that the region now appears to be reconnecting to the global market for drugs.

The increase in opium cultivation is linked to the production of synthetic narcotics in Myanmar, according to a United Nations study, which “has generated substantial profits in the narcotics economy in Myanmar and the surrounding region”, thus discouraging expansion. continuing.

of Regional heroin trade estimated While Myanmar’s entire opiate economy is worth up to $2 billion, it is worth a staggering $10 billion, according to a study.

“The continued resurgence of poppy cultivation in Myanmar will have significant implications for the broader drug economy, particularly in the lower Mekong region,” the study said.

‘Golden Triangle’ reconnects to global markets

An opium farmer in Myanmar sees Almost no special profit The local and global drug trade has increased incomes for those growing opium last year, and the average “plantation” price paid to farmers for opium has risen by almost 70% to $280 per kg. slightly exceeded the

And despite last year’s surge in production, price increases for poppy farmers have remained steady, and according to the United Nations, “the attractiveness of opium as a crop and commodity” and the “significant increase in demand as a Golden Triangle opium.” magnify” is shown. And the heroin trade appears to be reconnecting with the global market.

The multiple crises facing military-dominated Myanmar – an early civil war between the military and anti-coup forces that killed thousands and left 1.2 million internally displaced since the coup – are linked to opium cultivation. is directly related to the increase in

Importantly, the UN also found that poppy eradication efforts by Myanmar authorities (usually carried out by the police and military) will plummet after 2021, with 1,403 hectares (3,466 acres) destroyed in 2022, a 70% reduction in volume. points out that it has decreased. Or the poppy will be eradicated in 2021.

“The growth of the pharmaceutical business that we are witnessing is directly linked to the crisis that the country is facing. There are some difficult options to consider,” said UNODC’s Douglas.

As a United Nations report shows, “farmers have more than doubled their income from opium in the previous year.” This is an attractive financial proposition at a time when society is unstable, the economy has been affected by a military coup and is currently suffering from civil war.

“Continued political instability in a post-coup environment, a sluggish economy, inflation and very high farm-to-table opium prices are shaping household decisions. It could provide a strong incentive to start or expand opium poppy cultivation,” said the UN report.

More sophisticated farming techniques and access to fertilizers are likely reasons why the average opium yield in Myanmar’s poppy fields has increased to about 20 kilograms (44 pounds) per hectare, according to a study. , a 41 percent increase compared to 2021. According to the United Nations, such yield levels per hectare “are the highest ever estimated in Myanmar since UNODC began measuring them.”

However, as the United Nations points out, increased incomes for opium farmers “did not always translate directly into purchasing power”.

Crop eradication escalates vulnerability

The region with the largest increase in opium cultivation in Myanmar was Shan State, which recorded a 39% increase, followed by Chin State with a 14% increase, Kayah State with an 11% increase and Kachin State with only a 3% increase.

According to the United Nations, Shan State “continued to be a major growing state in Myanmar”, accounting for an estimated 84% of the country’s total opium poppy harvest.

The report also The Importance of Border Areas in Myanmar – Thailand, China, India and – in terms of cultivation hotspots.

In Shan State, “cultivation is dispersed in the southeast and south along the border with Thailand. Dense cultivated lands were detected in the mountainous areas in the southeast bordering the Wa region,” the report said.

epa02514518 Workers work to destroy opium poppy fields during an operation near a hilltribe valley in the mountains of the Golden Triangle region on the border of Thailand and Laos, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, January 3, 2011 Thai border guard. The Office of Narcotics and Crime (UNODC) reported that poppy cultivation in the Golden Triangle region, which covers Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, has increased by 22%. US$ or he is 165 million euros, apparently due to the global financial crisis, an increase of 100 million US dollars or he is 75 million euros. EPA/Chaichan Chaimun
Thai border guards destroy a poppy field during an operation in the Golden Triangle area on the Thai-Laos border in Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, 2011. [File: Chaichan Chaimun/EPA]

“Very high cultivation levels were observed in the northwestern part of Kachin State near the Chinese border and in the areas east of Myitkyina city. High Poppy Cultivation According to a United Nations survey, poppy cultivation is the main practice in Kayah State.

Addressing this issue will require tackling the challenges faced by people living in traditional opium-growing areas, including isolation, economic vulnerability and the escalating conflict in Myanmar.

“At the end of the day, opium cultivation is really an economic problem that cannot be solved by destroying crops that only escalate vulnerability,” said Benedict Hoffman, Country Manager, UNODC Myanmar.

If the economy is not stable and there are no alternatives, “opium cultivation and production will likely continue to expand,” Hoffmann said.

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