Myanmar sees a 'significant' decrease in opium cultivation

The UN warns conflict areas remain 'safe haven' for drug traders

Myanmar sees a 'significant' decrease in opium cultivation

Opium poppy cultivation in the Golden Triangle stabilised in 2015 at high levels | Image: UNODC

A new survey from the United Nations has found opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar has decreased significantly in 2017.

The total area of cultivation stands at to 41,000 hectares, down 25% from the 55,500 recorded in 2015.

Troels Vester, country manager of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), says: "Myanmar has taken important steps to address opium cultivation, especially in South Shan where we are running a programme together".

She also emphasized the importance of sustainable alternatives to opium cultivation.

The Myanmar Opium Survey 2017 finds reductions have been most significant in East Shan - with a drop of 37% - and South Shan with a drop of 29%.

However the report also reveals that while progress has been made, North Shan and Kachin states have seen reductions of less than 3% and 7%, which on the ground amounts to a decrease of only 600 hectares in total.

A poppy field in South Shan, Myanmar | Image: UNODC

The report re-confirms the link between conflict and opium in Myanmar, and that insecure areas with active insurgencies continue to cultivate and produce at levels similar to 2015.

UNODC regional representative Jeremy Douglas says: "As long as significant parts of Shan and Kachin remain unstable and basically autonomous from the rest of the country and region, the environment will remain a safe haven for those who run the drug trade".

The fall in opium cultivation is happening against the backdrop of a changing regional drug market, that has seen a fall in opium and heroin prices over recent years.

The UN says most countries in east and southeast Asia are reporting a shift toward synthetic drugs and especially methamphetamine.

UNODC says there is still a huge amount of work to be done and sustained support will be critical to its efforts.