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U.N. report: Myanmar opium farms booming under military junta

Opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar has surged since the military seized power in a February 2021 coup, a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said Thursday. File Photo by Hein Htet/EPA-EFE

Jan. 26 (UPI) — Myanmar’s cultivation of opium has grown dramatically since the military seized power in a coup, a United Nations report said Thursday, reversing a long downward trend.

The new survey by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found an increase of 33% in opium poppy cultivation area and an 88% increase in potential yield during the first full growing season since the military ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

The results “confirm a significant expansion is underway of Myanmar’s opium economy,” the UNODC said in a statement, citing the widespread chaos and unrest that has spread throughout the country under military rule.

“Economic, security and governance disruptions that followed the military takeover of February 2021 have converged, and farmers in remote, often conflict-prone areas in northern Shan and border states have had little option but to move back to opium,” UNODC regional representative Jeremy Douglas said.

The survey found that Myanmar’s poppy cultivation area grew to 40,100 hectares in 2022, an increase of around 10,000 hectares from the previous year and a reversal of a downward trend that had started in 2014. The potential yield of opium, which can be processed into heroin, jumped to 790 metric tons.

Evidence collected in 2022 also showed increased sophistication in cultivation practices, the report said, citing high-density hotspots and well-organized plots at previously unseen levels.

Myanmar’s economy was devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of the coup, contracting by 18% in 2021, according to the World Bank. An estimated 40% of the population was living under the poverty line last year amid additional shocks such as price increases in fuel and fertilizer due to the war in Ukraine.

The fragile economy has pushed rural farmers toward poppy cultivation, the UNODC report said, while synthetic drug production also continues to expand.

“The growth we are witnessing in the drug business is directly connected to the crisis the country is facing,” Douglas said.

The UNODC survey said that the value of opium in Myanmar ranges up to $2 billion, with the regional heroin trade valued at approximately $10 billion.

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