YANGON, Myanmar - Opium cultivation in military-ruled Myanmar increased 33% last year, reversing a six-year downward trend, according to a United Nations report released Thursday.
An official at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said the growth was "directly related" to Myanmar's political and economic chaos since the military took power in a coup nearly two years ago.
"Economic, security, and governance disruptions that followed the February 2021 military takeover have converged, and farmers in remote, often conflict-prone areas have had little choice but to return to opium," said Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC's regional representative.
A spokesperson for the junta did not respond to requests for comment.
Myanmar's economy has deteriorated since the coup, with the kyat currency falling against the dollar and food and fuel prices skyrocketing.
"Without alternatives and economic stability, it is likely that opium cultivation and production will continue to expand," UNODC Myanmar country manager Benedikt Hofmann warned.
According to the report, the cultivated area in 2022 increased by one-third to 40,100 hectares (99,000 acres), while the average estimated yield increased by 41% to nearly 20 kg (44 lb) per hectare, the highest value since the UNODC began keeping records in 2002.
The eastern Shan State, which borders China, Thailand, and Laos, saw the most significant increase in cultivation, accounting for 39% of the total.
The cultivated area was primarily determined using satellite data in the 2021 report.
According to the report, the annual value of opium produced in Myanmar can reach up to $2 billion, with much of the drug smuggled out to neighboring countries and then onto the global market.