Opium Poppy Cultivation in South-East Asia

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In order to assess the scope of opium poppy cultivation and opium production, UNODC has been carrying out opium surveys in cooperation with the respective Governments in Lao PDR (since 1992) and in Myanmar (since 2002), whereas Thailand has established its own monitoring system. This report contains the results of the UNODC supported opium poppy cultivation surveys in Lao PDR and Myanmar. In addition, the results from the opium poppy surveys implemented by the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board are presented in this regional overview.

Opium poppy cultivation in South East Asia

The major part of opium poppy cultivation in South East Asia takes place in Lao PDR, Myanmar and Thailand. The Government of Vietnam indicates that only a negligible amount of opium poppy is cultivated there. Between 1988 to 2006, the cultivation of opium in these three countries decreased from an estimated total of 157,900 hectares in 1998, to only 24,157 hectares in 2006. However, since then, opium poppy cultivation has increased in Myanmar and a mixed pattern of increases and decreases has been observed in Lao PDR and Thailand. Overall, opium poppy cultivation has increased in the region since 2006.

Myanmar, the largest opium growing country in the region, has seen major decreases over the years from 130,300 ha in 1998 to only 21,500 ha in 2006 (an 83% reduction over the period 1998-2006). The downward trend from 2000 to 2006 had been consistent. Since then, opium poppy cultivation has increased although at a relatively slow pace.

In Lao PDR, the area under opium poppy decreased from 26,800 ha in 1998 to only 1,600 ha in 2008. This represents a reduction in the area under cultivation by 94%, the largest percentage decline among the three countries. As compared to 2008 however, figures show an increase of 300 ha. This is still insignificant and cannot diminish the efforts of the Laotian government in reducing poppy cultivation in their country. The figures reported by the Thai Government indicated a reduction of its opium poppy cultivation area from 1,486 ha in 1998 to 211 ha in 2008 (a decline of 86%). Lao PDR and Thailand have both reached such low levels of opium poppy cultivation that they no longer produce opium for the international market.

Despite years of decrease between 1998 and 2006, Myanmar is still the second largest opium poppy grower in the world after Afghanistan. Myanmar contributed 20% of opium poppy cultivation in major cultivating countries in 2008. Lao PDR accounted for less than 1% in 2009. Since 2003, South East Asia has clearly ceased to be the largest opium poppy cultivating region, and Afghanistan became the by far the largest opium poppy cultivating country.