In 2023, Myanmar has emerged as the globe’s primary opium producer, overtaking Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. This shift occurred after Afghanistan initiated a crackdown on poppy cultivation in 2021 following the collapse of its civilian government.
Myanmar produced an estimated 1,080 metric tonnes of opium this year, as per the data released by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Meanwhile, Afghanistan saw a massive drop in opium production by 95 per cent to just 330 tonnes.
The production saw a drastic fall after the Islamist rulers imposed a blanket ban on the opium trade in April last year.
Thanks to the rising instability in Myanmar, the country’s illegal economy has expanded over the past few years, with the opiate economy rising to the estimated value of between $1bn and $2.4bn – the equivalent of 1.7% to 4.1% of the country’s 2022 GDP.
Last year, an estimated 790 metric tonnes of opium was produced in Myanmar, the UN said.
According to the report, high inflation and poor access to markets and state infrastructure are believed to have driven more and more farmers to shift to opium cultivation.
The UNODC said poppy cultivation in Myanmar was becoming more sophisticated, with increased investment and better practices – including improved irrigation and possible use of fertilisers – pushing up crop yields.
Opium cultivation: Afghanistan vs Myanmar
After the Taliban’s commitment to eradicating illegal drug production, Afghanistan witnessed a drastic decline in poppy cultivation between 2022 and 2023. Poppy crops, constituting nearly a third of the country’s agricultural value last year, saw the cultivation area diminish from 233,000 hectares in late 2022 to a mere 10,800 in 2023.
Meanwhile, in Myanmar, Shan state, primarily responsible for cultivation, experienced heightened conflict as ethnic minority armed groups launched an offensive against the junta and its allies.