14 December 2009

UNODC Reports "Worrisome" Rise in Myanmar Opium Cultivation

VIENNA, 14 December (UN Information Service) - In its latest survey of Opium Poppy Cultivation in South-East Asia, launched today in Bangkok, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) points to an increase in opium cultivation in Myanmar for the third year in a row. The total amount of opium hectares has increased by 11 per cent over last year, and almost 50 per cent since 2006 to a total of 31,700. This is still just a quarter of the amount grown in Afghanistan, and a far cry from the early 1990s when Myanmar was the world's biggest opium producer, "but the trend is going in the wrong direction", said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa. More than a million people are now involved in opium cultivation in Myanmar, most of them in the Shan state where 95 per cent of Myanmar's poppy is grown.

According to Mr. Costa: "Increased instability in north-eastern Myanmar is affecting the opium market. Ceasefire groups - autonomous ethnic militias like the Wa and Kachin - are selling drugs to buy weapons, and moving stocks to avoid detection."

Despite the increase in cultivation, the overall value of Myanmar's opium crop is falling since yields were down 28 per cent to 10.4 kg/ha, production fell 20 per cent (to 330 tons), and prices are more or less stable (at just over US$300/kg). In total, the potential value of opium production in Myanmar fell by 15 per cent from US$123 million in 2008 to US$104 million in 2009.

In Lao PDR, cultivation was up 19 per cent, although the overall total is low at 1,900 ha, as is the yield at 6 kg/ha. Nevertheless, with a kilo of opium fetching US$1,327 per kilogram (due to stable demand and scarce supply), this illicit crop remains attractive to farmers, especially as the prices of other locally produced commodities are falling. "Governments and donors need to stay the course and ensure sufficient duration of commitment and funding for all aspects of the drug issue: security, development, and health," said Mr. Costa.

While South East Asia has managed to contain a problem that once made it notorious as the Golden Triangle of opium, the Greater Mekong region is becoming a major producer and consumer of synthetic drugs. "It would be a pyrrhic victory for drug control if South-East Asia's opium was simply replaced by amphetamine-type stimulants," warned Mr. Costa.

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For further information please contact:

Giovanni Broussard
Associate Expert, UNODC
Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific
Telephone: (+66-2) 288-2472
Email: giovanni.broussard@unodc.org