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Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2023 – Cultivation, Production, and Implications

December 12th, 2023  •  Author:   United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime  •  2 minute read
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Key Takeaways

The upward trend in poppy cultivation in Myanmar continues

In 2023, area under cultivation was estimated to be 18% more than in 2022, at 47,100 ha (estimated range 32,200 to 77,200 ha). Although the area under cultivation has not returned to historic peaks of nearly 58,000 ha cultivated in 2013, after three consecutive years of increases, poppy cultivation in Myanmar is expanding and becoming more productive.

Following several years of decline between 2014 and 2020, poppy cultivation in Myanmar reached a low of 29,500 hectares in 2020. While the trend ended in 2021 with a slight increase from the year before, the 2022 growing season – the first one following the military takeover in February 2021 – saw a large increase of about 33%, with cultivation estimates reaching just over 40,000 hectares.

Poppy farming in Myanmar continues to become more sophisticated and productive, leading to the highest opium production estimates since 2001

Historically, illicit poppy cultivation in Myanmar, and Southeast Asia in general, was typically associated with small, poorly organized, and generally sparse plots grown by rural households as part of the annual farming cycle. Field and ethnographic research point to longstanding traditions of small- scale poppy cultivation as a cash crop, but also for household use.

However, the trend of small-scale, poorly organized cultivation is changing, with reports from Myanmar pointing to increasingly sophisticated means of cultivation, including increased plot density, improved organization of plants, and enhanced practices, such as the use of irrigation systems and potentially fertilizers.

These changes are reflected in the yield estimates for Myanmar. Yield estimates from the 2022 survey indicated an average of 19.8kg of opium per hectare of poppy, a substantial increase in productivity from 14kg per hectare in the preceding year. In 2023, the national yield estimate rose slightly to 22.9 (95% confidence interval 21.6 to 24.4) kilograms of opium per hectare of poppy.

In 2023, the resulting estimate of potential dry opium production in Myanmar was 1,080 (760- 1,720) metric tons, the highest since 2001 (1,100 tons of opium were estimated that year). This represents a substantial increase of 36% compared with the 2022 estimate.

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