Myanmar’s government has just released a report that states that the country’s opium business has shrunk by more than 3000 hectares (ha) over the last 12 months as the market shifted towards synthetic drugs, a UN study stated. The government’s report parallels a recent report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that said that the regional drug market has experienced a dramatic change for alternative products such as methamphetamine.
According to the Myanmar government in 2017 there were 41,000 hectares of opium cultivation in the country and that the government estimates a decrease in 2018 so that there now 37,300 acres producing opium.
A man extracts raw opium to be processed into heroin at a poppy field southern Shan State in 2015
The study - the Myanmar Opium Survey 2018 - also found that poppy cultivation has been in decline across all states/ regions of the country but that has seen the most significant decline in the southern Shan and Kachin States. The decline of acres of land used for cultivation in southern Shan state was estimated at 17%, and in Kachin State the decline of acreage was estimated at 15%.
With an average yield of 14kg per hectare in 2018, the government estimates that total opium production dropped from 550 to 520 metric tons, equivalent to 53 tons of heroin. According to UNODC, in 2017 Myanmar was the second largest opium producer in the world, behind Afghanistan. In 1999, the government and local authorities launched a 15-year plan to eliminate illicit opium farming with production decreasing steadily from 2017.
UNDOC reports that the reduction in opium cultivation can be attributed to evolving market demand, with opium and heroin declining over the past years. East and Southeast Asia countries have made a strong shift on synthetic drugs, primarily methamphetamine and the use of heroin is seen as “out-of-date” with younger drug users.