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An Afghan man works in a poppy field in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Picture: REUTERS
An Afghan man works in a poppy field in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Picture: REUTERS

Bangkok — Myanmar has become the world’s largest source of opium, as a result of domestic instability and a decline in cultivation in Afghanistan, the UN said in a report on Tuesday.

The 95% decline in opium cultivation in Afghanistan after a drug ban by the Taliban in 2022 has seen global supply shifted to Myanmar, where political, social and economic instability brought about by a 2021 coup drove many to poppy farming, the UN office on drugs and crime report said.

Myanmar farmers now earn about 75% more from opium poppy farming, as average prices of the flower have reached about $355/kg and the cultivation area has increased by 18% year on year, from 40,100 to 47,000ha, boosting the potential yield to its highest level since 2001, the UN said.

“The economic, security and governance disruption that followed the military takeover of February 2021 continue to drive farmers in remote areas towards opium to make a living,” UN regional representative Jeremy Douglas said.

Opium cultivation areas expanded most in Myanmar’s border regions in northern Shan state, followed by Chin and Kachin states, as yield expanded by 16% to 22.9kg per hectare because of more sophisticated farming practices, the UN report said.

The surge in fighting between the Myanmar military and armed ethnic minority groups is likely to accelerate the expansion of opium cultivation, Douglas said. The Myanmar junta did not respond to a request for comment.

The expansion of opium cultivation feeds into a growing illicit economy in Myanmar that includes high levels of synthetic drug production and traffickin,g as well as other criminal enterprises from money laundering to online scam centres run by organised crime.

Reuters

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