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Opium production rises in 33% Myanmar, the first season after military coup, U.N. report says

Poppy field bust
Arrest made in discovery of poppy field worth $500M 01:26

Opium production rose 33% in Myanmar, the first season after the military's violent takeover of the country, a U.N. report released Thursday. This jump signifies enhanced sophistication in farming practices, and points to an alarming interest in growing opium, the report said. 

Since the 2021 military coup, Myanmar has been roiled by continued political instability, violence, and economic turmoil. Much of the country's population is poverty-stricken and relies on farming to make a living. Coupled with the collapse of the country's healthcare system after the COVID-19 pandemic and increased hunger and forced migration, the incentive is high for cash-strapped farmers to grow poppies.  

A farmer working at an illegal poppy field in Hopong, Myanmar Shan State.  Ye Aung Thu Getty Images

Myanmar and its borders with Thailand and Laos – known collectively as the "Golden Triangle" - have long been one of the most significant drug trafficking points in the world. Myanmar's opiate economy estimated value ranges between US$ 660 million to 2.0 billion, according to U.N. estimates.

"At the end of the day, opium cultivation is really about economics, and it cannot be resolved by destroying crops which only escalates vulnerabilities," said United Nations Office Drugs Control (UNODC) Regional Representative Jeremy Douglas in a statement on the U.N. website. "Without alternatives and economic stability, it is likely that opium cultivation and production will continue to expand."

In this season, farmers earned twice as much selling opium in 2022 as they did the previous year, the report found. Prices for a kilogram of opium increased 70% from $166 to $281, the report found.  

Usually, opium poppy fields in Myanmar are small, poorly organized, and far from villages and roads, the report said. But this year's estimate indicates an average of 19.8 kilograms of opium per hectare of poppy, the highest-ever measured estimates in Myanmar, the report said. In Shan State, field size increased by more than 30 percent compared to 2021, the report said. Researchers at the UNODC used a combination of satellite imagery and fieldwork to gather the information.

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