Myanmar Farmers Ditch Crops for Opium

By The Irrawaddy 14 February 2023

Corn, watermelon, ginger and turmeric farmers in Shan State have switched to growing opium as Myanmar’s economy collapses under military rule.

Labor shortages and rising fertilizer and pesticide prices have thrown numerous farmers into economic hardship.

A Shan State farmer told The Irrawaddy: “Yields are not good this year and prices are low. I previously grew corn, turmeric and ginger but it was difficult to sell them because of problems with transport. I switched to poppy which is easier to transport. I can carry several kilograms and I earn no more than 30,000 kyats for selling about 50kg of crops. I would not be able to carry that amount to market but the brokers come to the farms to buy it. Poppy is much more profitable.”

It costs at least 1.3 million kyats (US$450) to grow an acre of corn or ginger and around 1 million kyats to cultivate an acre of poppy, which is far more valuable, he said.

“Food prices have generally increased since the coup but our crops sell for less. We have no option but to grow opium,” said the farmer.

A poppy farm in southern Shan State. / Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy

Poppy yields are between 10-13kg per acre and it fetches up to 900,000 kyats per 1.6kg. The poppy season starts in August, according to growers.

Other farmers have left for Thailand, he said.

“Everyone who has stayed is growing poppy. It is difficult to sell other crops with transport disruptions. But the poppy brokers come to us to buy it,” he said.

Myanmar has again become the world’s second-largest producer of opium following the 2021 coup. Cultivation and production dipped and Myanmar in 2019 fell to third under the ousted National League for Democracy government, according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report last month.

A poppy farm in southern Shan State. / Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy

The survey of Shan, Kachin, Chin and Karen states, where Myanmar’s opium production is based, said Shan State accounted for around 84 percent of the area under cultivation.

Myanmar’s poppy cultivation stood at 55,000 hectares in 2015, 41,000 in 2017, 39,300 in 2018 and 39,100 in 2019.

In 2022 the cultivated area was estimated at 40,100 hectares, about 10,000 hectares more than in 2021, according to the UN agency. Production almost doubled in the first year of military rule to 795 tonnes in 2022.

Continued instability, increasing fuel and fertilizer prices, a weak economy, inflation and high opium prices have boosted opium cultivation, said the report.