Myanmar is the 2nd largest opium producing country in the world 25% of estimated global production.
Myanmar Poppy cultivation has jumped 17% from 2011 to 2012 despite goverment efforts.
The country is a major source of methamphetamine pills and opiates in Southeast Asia.
The major cause of the increases of drug production has been attributed to ongoing instability conflict.
According to the UNODC report South-East Asia Opium Survey 2012 – Lao PDR, Myanmar
Poppy cultivation areas
The center of Myanmar’s illicit drugs activities remains in Shan state, which accounts for 90% of poppy cultivation in the country, with the remaining 10% are located mainly in Kachin state.
In 2012, large increases of cultivation were reported by UNODC in south, east and north areas of Shan state, as well as in Kachin state. UNODC estimates that 300,000 Myanmar households engage in poppy cultivation, a 17% increase from 2011 (256,000 households).
In comparison, the SHAN Drug Watch Newsletter, published in June 2012, found that 21 out of 22 townships (or 18 out of 20 by today’s count – after government reorganization of some townships) targeted for opium elimination under the government’s 15-year master plan to permanently eliminate drugs from 1999-2014, are still growing poppy. During the last season from 2011-12, their researchers confirmed that 49 out of 55 townships in Shan State were growing poppies. Aside from Shan state, the report finds that areas in Magwe Region, Sagaing Region, and Kachin, Kayah (Karenni), Chin and Rakhine states are also producing opium. Of these only Kachin, Kayah and Chin states are targeted in the government’s 15-year plan.
International Drug trade route
Most of the drugs are traded on the world market, passing through China and Laos via the Golden Triangle, before continuing through Thailand and other Southeast Asia countries before reaching the rest of the world. Precursor chemicals are trafficked from neighboring countries for the production of methamphetamine tablets. India reported that reforms in Myanmar have led to an increase in Indian drug trafficking. The Indian Narcotics Control Bureau seized 1 million pseudo-ephedrine tablets destined to Myanmar in 2012.
Causes for increased drug production and trade despite political reforms
In a survey done by the UNODC that asked farmers why they grow poppy, 79% said they were cultivating poppy because of the higher net income generated in relation to other crops, while 45% cited the need to buy food. In addition, in 95% of the villages in Shan state that were surveyed, residents said they received no agricultural assistance from the government. In rural mountainous areas that face economic hardships, and where other crops are difficult to grow, cultivating poppy is key for their survival. Some BGF and Myanmar armed forces also continue to collect taxes from poppy plantations, taking advantage of non-existent law enforcement in these areas.
The SHAN Drug Watch report identifies three main reasons for increases of poppy cultivation:
● farmers are impoverished therefore its necessity for survival
● rebels need to generate funds for weapons for armed conflicts against the government
● government and the army encourage proxy armed forces to utilize the drug trade to generate funding for: food, clothing and equipment for conflicts with armed resistance groups.
A number of experts have concluded that ceasefire groups like the United Wa State Army (UWSA), who rejected Naypyidaw’s order to transform into Border Guard Forces (BGFs), are producing more drugs to buy additional weapons to fight against the government if necessary. The SHAN Drug Watch report lists other reasons for the increase in poppy cultivation:
● Myanmar military commanders allowing People’s Militia Forces (PMFs) to establish their own drug production plants and trafficking networks to wrest the market away from ceasefire groups, while at the same time blocking all income generating activities, (especially drug production and trafficking) for ceasefire groups (in particular the UWSA)
● shift investment from private drug producers, both domestic and foreign (mostly Thai and Chinese), away from the Wa and their allies to areas under the control of the Myanmar Army and the People’s Militia Forces (PMFs) where their drug activities and profits are more secure
● reported increases in poppy cultivation, heroin and methamphetamine production are greater in areas controlled by Myanmar Army-People’s Militias than in areas controlled by rebel-ceasefire groups
● Myanmar army’s Self Reliance policy imposed on proxy armed groups in border areas require them to generate their own funding. Illegal fundraising activities by proxy groups are ignored or tolerated.
The SHAN report states the solution “should not be the Myanmar Army and ceasefire armies joining hands together against the PMFs, which will only result in financiers moving their investments to new armed groups politically in favor with Naypyidaw. The solution should be political: an agreement that ensures both the integrity of the nation and the ‘autonomy in internal administration’ of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities that will put an end to strife and lawlessness in the country.”
Despite the worrying rise of drug production in the country there still encouraging signs that the government intends to address these issues. During his inauguration address on March 30, 2011 President Thein Sein said “good governance” is regarded as one of the first requirements for the control of illicit drugs and he has been reportedly developing a 3-year project that will bring the 15-year master plan to fruition.