UN: Myanmar Is Now World’s No1 Opium Producer

Published: 15 December 2023

Blue PoppyOpium is a narcotic extracted from the opium poppy plant Papaver somniferum. (Photo: Mark Nesbitt and Delwen Samuel, Wikimedia, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

Myanmar has become the world's largest opium producer, surpassing Afghanistan, which reduced its production after the Taliban imposed a ban in April last year, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported on Tuesday.

Afghanistan, previously the world leader in opium poppy cultivation, experienced a 95% drop in production following the Taliban's ban. The global opium supply shifted to Myanmar, a country currently embroiled in a crisis after the military coup in 2021, resulting in a civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 protesters, led to the arrest of 20,000 individuals, and resulted in the burning of 55,000 houses.

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

With the Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2023 data, the U.N. now confirms the growth of opium cultivation in the Asian country by more than 7,000 hectares compared to last year. Production has also increased, with 36% more than the 2022 estimate.

The most significant increase in opium cultivation was recorded in Shan State, at the border with China, Laos, and Thailand. This region, known as the Golden Triangle, is a hub for narcotics production and smuggling.

According to the U.N., Myanmar’s growth in opium cultivation fuels illicit economies such as synthetic drug production, drug trafficking, money laundering, casinos, and racketeering operations, bringing benefits to organized crime groups in the Mekong region, which includes China, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

“The crime and governance challenges in the region are compounded by the crisis in Myanmar. Southeast Asia needs to come together to find solutions to both traditional and emerging threats,” stated UNODC Regional Representative Jeremy Douglas.