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Strong growth in Myanmar boosts opium production in ‘Golden Triangle’ – UN report

Poppy field.
Poppy field.

Strong growth in Myanmar boosts opium production in ‘Golden Triangle’ – UN report

Led by strong growth in Myanmar, opium poppy cultivation in the area known as the Golden Triangle rose for the seventh consecutive year, according to a report released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2013 says that, despite eradication efforts, opium production increased by 22 per cent this year in the Golden Triangle – consisting of Myanmar, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Thailand – led by a 13 per cent growth in Myanmar. In Laos, cultivation levelled off but remains a concern.

The combination of an increase in both cultivation and yield of opium poppy in Myanmar in 2013 resulted in a rise in opium production of some 26 per cent in comparison to 2012. The best estimate for 2013 opium production in Myanmar alone is some 870 tonnes, the highest since assessments by UNODC and the Government began in 2002, the report states.

“These figures make clear that we need to step up efforts to address the root causes of cultivation and promote alternatives to poppy growing,” said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for South-east Asia and the Pacific.

“We need to act quickly. The Golden Triangle is the geographic centre of the Greater Mekong sub-region, and plans are well underway to expand transport and infrastructure and lower trade barriers and border controls across the region. The organized criminal networks that benefit from South-east Asia’s illicit drug trade are well positioned to take advantage of regional integration," Mr. Douglas said.

Surveys of farmers in poppy-growing villages indicate that the money made from poppy cultivation remains an essential part of family income, the report points out. “Villagers threatened with food insecurity and poverty need sustainable alternatives, or they will continue out of desperation to turn to growing this cash crop.”

The resurgence in cultivation and production may also be fuelled by a rise in demand for opiates in local and regional markets. In Myanmar and Laos, the use of heroin, opium and synthetic drugs remains high – and was “much higher” in poppy-growing villages.

Myanmar is South-east Asia’s largest opium poppy-growing country and the world’s second largest after Afghanistan. Shan state remains the centre of Myanmar’s opium activities, accounting for 92 per cent of opium poppy cultivation, with the rest located mainly in Kachin state.

In Laos, the UNODC survey confirmed opium poppy cultivation in the three northern provinces of Phongsali, Xiangkhoang and Houaphan.