Burma (Myanmar) has overtaken Afghanistan as the world’s largest opium producer, following the latter country’s productive collapse after the Taliban came to power, the United Nations reported on Tuesday. against drugs and crime (UNODC).
In a report on opium in Southeast Asia presented in Bangkok, UNODC says opium cultivation in Myanmar increased by 18% in 2023 to an estimated area of 47,100 hectares, up from around 11 000 in Afghanistan.
“Opium production in Myanmar increased for the first time (in years) after the 2021 military coup and will increase again in 2022 and 2023,” said UNODC regional representative Jeremy Douglas, during the presentation of the study to the Foreign Correspondents Club.
Poverty, political and security instability and the lack of strong public institutions and services are some of the factors that UNODC attributes to the increase in opium production, according to the report entitled “Investigation on the “Opium in Southeast Asia 2023: cultivation, production and implications”.
“The conflict is causing displacement and instability in the country, which of course pushes the population to increase (opium),” Douglas said, adding that production is expected to increase in the coming years.
Production concentrated in northeastern Burma
After the coup, opium production began to increase in conflict zones, mainly in the northeastern Shan and Kachin states, and by 2023 reached a production of 1,080 tonnes, the highest figure highest recorded since 2001.
The UN expert said that opium cultivation is mainly present in the two aforementioned states and, to an emerging extent, in Sagaing, both in areas controlled by the military junta and related groups and by the guerrillas and anti-junta militias.
The border region between Burma, Thailand and Laos is known as the Golden Triangle, a major center of narcotics production and distribution where the opium poppy has been cultivated for decades.
In the case of Afghanistan, the coming to power of the Muslim fundamentalist group Taliban caused production to fall by 95 percent, from the estimated 233,000 hectares in 2022 to 11,000 in 2023.
In the past, Afghanistan supplied 80 percent of the world’s opium, which should now prompt Burma to increase its production.