Survey launched to gauge level of opium production in Lao PDR

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Vientiane (Lao PDR), 3 March 2023 – Situated within the Golden Triangle area of the Mekong region, Lao PDR has for decades been a major producer of opium. For the first time since 2015, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is now conducting a scientific opium survey to determine the levels of cultivation.

The survey is based on analysis of satellite images combined with on-site field verification. Due to a challenging geography, however, with opium fields located far into the jungle, the field verification is conducted with helicopter.

In February 2023, the UNODC survey team initiated a two-week long helicopter journey that covers all the northern Lao provinces, and the team will conduct on-site data collection in close to 100 pre-determined areas across the country. The data collection includes measurements of cultivation density as well as average yield, and will help   determine the total production of opium.

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“As a small country with a small population, Laos does not always get the attention it deserves”, said Erlend Falch, Officer-in-Charge of UNODC’s office in Lao PDR. “But per capita, the country actually had very high levels of cultivation the last time we carried out a similar survey back in 2015. It has now been 8 years since our last survey, with large changes in the regional and global context as well as a pandemic that led to border closures and disruption of legal income opportunities in many of these areas. This survey will give us very important information as we work with the Lao Government to plan responses”.

The report from the survey is expected to be finalized in the last quarter of 2023.