Opium production in Burma is on the rise again: 790 tons were recorded in 2022 according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), nearly double what it was the previous year. The areas used for poppy cultivation have increased by 33%. This resurgence reverses the downward trend recorded since the peak of 870 tons recorded in 2013, which coincided with the democratization of the country and an economic boom fueled by the influx of foreign investment. In question, this time, the coup d’etat of February 2021 and the resumption of armed conflicts in the country which is fueling the upsurge in trafficking. The fight against drugs is not a priority for the junta: the areas where opium cultivation was eradicated in 2022 have fallen by more than half, as have seizures.
These upheavals had devastating effects for the Burmese economy then in the midst of a pandemic, with a drop in gross domestic product (GDP) of nearly 18% in 2021. “Between 2014 and 2021, a large number of poppy farmers left their fields for other employment. But all those new opportunities are gone.”explained Jeremy Douglas, the regional representative for South-East Asia and the Pacific of the UNODC, during a presentation in Bangkok, Thursday, January 26, of the Annual Report of the UN opium agency in Burma. UNODC determines a map of areas likely to host poppy crops, and carries out satellite checks. It also sends its teams based in the country to the area, with the agreement of the junta and local armed groups – 370 sites were thus visited in 2022.
The opium economy in Burma generates between 660 million and 2 billion dollars (552 million to 1.8 billion euros) per year, according to the UNODC, or between 1% and 3% of GDP – mostly realized for export, in the form of opium or heroin. Apart from Kachin State on the Chinese border, where production is stable, most opium production, 84%, is located in Shan State, the vast mountainous territory in eastern Burma share half a dozen more or less rival ethnic armed organizations and projunta militias on the border of Laos and Thailand.
The opium or heroin then transits through these two countries, in the famous area of the Golden Triangle where Burma, Thailand and Laos have common borders, long the first source of opium in the world before Afghanistan dethroned this region in the 2000s. “The fact is, the Golden Triangle is back in the opium business”believes Jeremy Douglas.
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