BANGKOK – The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said on Wednesday that opium cultivation in Myanmar, which is known to be used by several ethnic guerrilla groups operating in the country to fund their operations, has declined by 25 percent.
The UNODC said that 41,000 hectares (around 101,300 acres) of land was under poppy cultivation in 2017 across Myanmar – the world’s second-largest producer of heroin – compared to 55,000 hectares in 2015.
This reduction has resulted in potential opium production decreasing by only 14 percent compared to 2015, due to a greater yield per hectare.
UNODC representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas, said that “the connection between governance and security on the one hand and poverty and conflict on the other is undeniable,” and underlined that the UN report shows a link between areas of cultivation and conflict.
“We will continue to assist the transition from a dependence on opium to alternative and sustainable economic opportunities. But it cannot be done in isolation from the peace process,” Douglas said.
Much the opium cultivation in Myanmar is concentrated in Shan state, where fighting between the army and ethnic minority guerrillas have intensified in recent years, despite the government’s efforts at starting a peace process.
“As long as significant parts of Shan and Kachin remain unstable and basically autonomous from the rest of the country, the environment will remain a safe haven for those who run the drug trade,” Douglas explained.
In 2015, UNODC placed Myanmar as the second largest heroin producer in the world, behind Afghanistan.
“Myanmar has taken important steps to address opium cultivation, especially in South Shan where we are running a programme together. But we also recognize that there is still a huge amount of work to be done,” UNODC Myanmar head Troels Vester said.