YANGON, Myanmar – Opium cultivation in Myanmar declined for the fourth consecutive year in 2018, the United Nations said on Friday.
Poppy fields now cover a total area of 37,300 hectares, 10 percent less than the year before, the UN said, pointing to the growing regional market of synthetic drugs.
In a new report titled the Myanmar Opium Survey 2018, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said the reduction amounts to a drop of 520-550 tons in production, equivalent to around 53 tons of heroin.
Most opium production in Myanmar is concentrated in the northern states of Kachin and Shan, which have witnessed a protracted armed conflict between Myanmar’s army and a number of ethnic rebel groups.
According to the UNODC, southern Shan had the sharpest decline in cultivation, of around 17 percent; Kachin followed with 15 percent. Eastern and northern Shan saw declines of 8 and 7 percent respectively.
“Entrenched poverty and opium cultivation in Myanmar are closely connected. Poor opium farming areas need better security and sustainable economic alternatives,” UNODC Myanmar Country Manager Troels Vester said in a statement.
“Crime groups are using unstable and insecure parts of the country to do business, and without addressing lawlessness these areas will continue to be a safe haven for those who profit from the drug trade,” he added.
The UN agency said that the decline in opium cultivation needs to be understood in the context of the “dramatically changing” regional drug market, which is shifting to synthetic drugs, especially methamphetamine.
The International Crisis Group said in a report this week that Myanmar has become one of the biggest producers of crystal methamphetamine, which is much more lucrative than heroin or amphetamine, drugs that have been produced for decades in the conflict-ridden northern region of the country.