Opium Poppy Cultivation Surges in Myanmar Since Military Coup

Opium farmers in Myanmar (UNODC)
Opium farmers in Myanmar (UNODC)

Opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar increased significantly after the military coup of 2021 as a result of farmers being forced to produce the crop by political and economic unrest.
The nation’s economy has been crippled following the military takeover of power in February 2021 and the accompanying battle between the junta and anti-coup rebels.

In 2021–22, the first full growing season following the coup, the area used for opium poppy production increased by a third to just over 40,000 hectares, according to a UNODC report released on Thursday.

Additionally, the potential output surged to 790 tonnes, up roughly 90% from the previous year.

According to the UNODC report, the findings indicate that Myanmar’s opium industry has “significantly expanded.”

“Economic, security and governance disruptions that followed the military takeover of February 2021 have converged, and farmers… have had little option but to move back to opium,” UNODC regional representative Jeremy Douglas said.

“The growth we are witnessing in the drug business is directly connected to the crisis the country is facing.”

According to the assessment, which was based on fieldwork and satellite images, the decline in opium output that was observed from 2014 to 2020 had reversed.

UNODC estimates value Myanmar’s opium industry at about USD 2 billion, or up to 3% of its GDP in 2021.

Despite the growth in production, the research stated that farm gate prices for opium have also risen to about USD 280 per kilogram — a 69 percent increase from the previous year.

This compares with a farm gate price of around USD 203 per kilogram in Afghanistan, the world’s leading opium producer.

However, the article suggested that the increasing price of petrol and fertilizer prices as a result of the Ukraine war has meant higher opium profits are not translating into better purchasing power for farmers.

Around 40 percent of Myanmar’s population was living in poverty in 2022, with the country’s economy contracting 18 percent in 2021 amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Farmers need outside support to boost their livelihoods by growing other crops to compete with the opium economy, UNODC Myanmar country manager Benedikt Hofmann said.

“Opium cultivation is really about economics, and it cannot be resolved by destroying crops which only escalates vulnerabilities,” he said.