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Myanmar surpasses Afghanistan as world’s top opium producer – UN

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In a recent report unveiled on Tuesday, the United Nations revealed that Myanmar has surpassed Afghanistan to become the leading global producer of opium in 2023. 

This shift follows the Taliban government’s stringent measures to curb opium trade in Afghanistan.

According to the latest findings from the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, Myanmar has generated an estimated 1,080 metric tonnes of opium, a crucial component in heroin production, this year.

This significant increase contrasts with Afghanistan, where opium production plummeted by approximately 95% to around 330 tonnes after the Taliban prohibited poppy cultivation in April last year, as per UNODC.

The notorious “Golden Triangle” border area encompassing Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand has long been a notorious hub for illegal drug production and trafficking, particularly involving methamphetamine and opium.

The calculated value of Myanmar’s “opiate economy” has surged to a range between $1 billion and $2.4 billion, equivalent to 1.7 to 4.1 percent of the country’s 2022 GDP, according to UNODC. 

In comparison, Myanmar produced an estimated 790 metric tonnes of opium the previous year.

The ongoing conflict and instability in Myanmar since the military seized power in 2021 have devastated the country’s legal economy, prompting numerous farmers to turn to poppy cultivation. 

Factors such as poor market access, deficient state infrastructure, and pervasive inflation have played a pivotal role in the decision of farmers to cultivate more poppy, as outlined in the report.

The UNODC report further notes that the estimated opium production for the 2022-23 period has reached its highest level in over two decades. 

Moreover, poppy cultivation in Myanmar is evolving with increased sophistication, marked by elevated investments and improved practices, including enhanced irrigation and potentially the use of fertilizers, resulting in higher crop yields.

While Afghanistan held the title of the world’s leading opium producer for several years, its cultivation drastically declined after the Taliban authorities pledged to eradicate illegal drug production. 

Poppy crops, accounting for almost a third of the country’s total agricultural production value last year, witnessed a significant reduction in the area utilized for cultivation, shrinking from 233,000 hectares in late 2022 to 10,800 in 2023.

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