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Myanmar opium cultivation up despite rise in poppy eradication, UNODC says

Long-term solution to poppy requires significant investment in peace, rule of law and alternative development

Nay Pyi Taw (Myanmar), 31 October 2012 - Opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar rose for the sixth consecutive year, despite a significant increase in Government eradication efforts, according to a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report which was launched today in Naypyitaw, the Myanmar capital.

The UNODC report, South-East Asia Opium Survey 2012 - Lao PDR, Myanmar, estimates that Myanmar opium poppy cultivation jumped 17 per cent in 2012 to 51,000 hectares (up from 43,000 ha in 2011) in spite of Government claims to have eradicated 23,717 ha of opium poppy - more than three times the 7,058 ha it eradicated in 2011.

From Bangkok, Mr. Gary Lewis, UNODC Regional Representative, East Asia and the Pacific, said: "The opium numbers continue to head in the wrong direction. However we have seen more progress on responding to the root causes of opium cultivation in the past year than we have in the past decade. The international community must now ask 'how can we help?' - and provide resources towards a solution."

Mr. Lewis placed the report's key findings within the overall the regional drug control context: "The significant increase in opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar coupled with significant increases in trafficking in methamphetamines and other illicit drugs reflect a growing human security threat to the region.

"Despite the important increase in eradication what really matters is the increase in cultivation. Cultivation indicates intention. And unless the farmers have a feasible and legitimate alternative to give them food security and reduce their debt, they will continue to plant poppy."

Myanmar is Southeast Asia's largest opium poppy-growing country and the world's second largest after Afghanistan. It currently accounts for 25 per cent of global illicit poppy cultivation, and - together with Lao PDR - a full 10 per cent of global opium production, according to UNODC. UNODC estimates that Myanmar's total 2012 opium production is currently 690 metric tonnes (mt), a 13 per cent increase from 2011, and the highest level of production since 2003.

The report was launched today by Jason Eligh, UNODC Myanmar Country Manager, with the support of the Myanmar Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC). Among the attendees in Naypyitaw were senior Myanmar law enforcement, drug control and military officials, several Ambassadors, UN agencies and local media.

Major General Kyaw Kyaw Tun, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs and Myanmar Police Chief, joined Mr. Eligh at the launch to present his comments on the Report, and to take questions from the audience.

The center of Myanmar's illicit drugs activities remains Shan State, which accounts for 90 per cent of opium poppy cultivation in the country, with the remaining 10 per cent located mainly in Kachin State. In 2012, strong increases in cultivation were reported by UNODC in South, East and North Shan States, as well as in Kachin.

UNODC also estimates that 300,000 Myanmar households engage in opium cultivation, a 17 per cent increase from 2011 (256,000 households). Both Shan and Kachin States have areas of ongoing instability and conflict.

"Eradication alone is not an effective response to reduce opium poppy cultivation. We must remember why farmers grow poppy. In most cases it is because they need cash to buy food to feed their families. Growing opium poppy provides much needed food security for many of them," said Mr. Jason Eligh, UNODC Country Manager in Myanmar, in Naypyitaw.

Mr. Eligh elaborated further: "In areas of conflict and instability like Shan and Kachin States with poor access to markets, there are few employment alternatives to poppy. A sustainable long-term solution to poppy can only come through significant investment in peace, the rule of law and alternative development.

"We strongly encourage other donors to join Germany and the European Union to fund human rights‐based alternative development efforts in Myanmar that reduce poverty and food insecurity and improve people's lives," Mr. Eligh said.

Major General Kyaw Kyaw Tun echoed Mr. Eligh's comments: "Myanmar did a lot of poppy eradication last year. This shows that law enforcement can have a significant impact on opium cultivation. However, to effectively reduce opium cultivation we need to do a lot more alternative development, including strengthening the livelihoods of opium farmers.

"We invite donors and the international community to help us reduce opium cultivation and production - which is not only a Myanmar problem, but a global concern," Major General Kyaw Kyaw Tun concluded.

The report contains the results of UNODC-supported opium poppy cultivation surveys in Lao PDR and Myanmar. In addition, it presents the results of opium poppy surveys implemented by the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB).

Opium cultivation in Lao PDR increased 66 per cent in 2012 to 6,800 ha, up from 4,100 ha in 2011, and almost to 2004 levels. Thailand reported a 4 per cent decline to 209 ha. While Lao PDR poppy farming remains low compared with a decade ago, there are worrying indications that cultivation is increasing substantially.

In Myanmar, opium cultivation took place in 37 per cent of villages surveyed in 2012, with relatively high concentrations in South Shan (48 per cent) and East Shan (43 per cent). When asked why they grow opium, 79 per cent said it was because of the high net income generated by poppy relative to other crops, while 45 per cent cited the need to buy food. In addition, 95 per cent of villages in Shan State said they received no agricultural assistance.

The Survey estimates the total potential value of opium production in Myanmar at US$ 407 million, a 28 per cent rise from 2011 (US$ 319 million).

Opium prices increased in Myanmar in 2012 to US$ 520/kg, a 15 per cent increase from 2011 (US$ 450/kg). This reflects the strong appreciation of the kyat, Myanmar's currency, against the US dollar. Overall, adjusted for inflation, the report finds that the price of opium has remained stable since 2006.

To assess the scope of opium poppy cultivation and opium production, UNODC has conducted opium surveys in cooperation with the Governments of Lao PDR (since 1992) and of Myanmar (since 2002). Using helicopter, satellite and village surveys from Myanmar and Lao PDR and figures from Thailand's own monitoring system, UNODC has created a detailed study of opium in South-East Asia. The results are compiled annually, often under hazardous conditions, and presented every year.

Annual opium surveys remain essential for assessing the extent of opium poppy cultivation and changes in cultivation patterns in Lao PDR and Myanmar. They are useful tools to gauge the effectiveness of opium bans and their implications and also aid with the understanding of cultivation techniques and alternative livelihoods. Such information is essential to develop effective strategies to sustain the transition from an illicit to a licit economy.

UNODC receives financial support from the Government of Japan and the United States of America to conduct the surveys and from the European Union and Germany to deliver alternative development assistance.