The decline in cultivation of opium in Afghanistan and domestic instability has led Myanmar to become the world’s largest source of opium, the United Nations said in a report on Tuesday.
The decline in opium cultivation to an extent of 95% in Afghanistan after a drug ban by the Taliban in 2022 has seen universal supply shifted to Myanmar, where socioeconomical and political instability brought about by a 2021 coup drove many to poppy cultivation, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report said.
Myanmar farmers now earn about 75% more from opium poppy farming, as average prices of the flower have reached about $355 per kilogram and the cultivation area has increased by 18% 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 farming areas spread most in Myanmar’s border regions in northern Shan State, followed by Chin and Kachin states, as yield expanded by 16% to 22.9 kg/ha because of more sophisticated cultivation practices, UNODC report said.
The rise in fighting between the Myanmar military and armed ethnic-minority groups will most likely accelerate the expansion of opium cultivation, Douglas said.
The expansion of opium farming feeds into a spreading illicit economy in Myanmar that include high levels of synthetic drug manufacturing and trafficking as well as other criminal initiatives from money laundering to online scam center run by organized crime.