Most of the profit is generated after the produce has left Myanmar. Source: Wikimedia
Myanmar is the second largest producer of opium after Afghanistan. This year it exported around 647 tonnes of opium, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported.
Opium cultivation has been “stable” at high levels since 2013, spanning more than 55,000 hectares.
The reddish-brown drug and its highly addictive derivative, heroin, are produced in the war-torn states of Kachin and Shan.
“Previously in Kachin State, we could get the drug everywhere at a very cheap price,” said Nlam Hkun Aung, director of the Rebirth Rehabilitation Centre in the Kachin capital of Myitkyina, where a shot of heroin costs around 600 kyats or 50 US cents.
“At Myitkyina University, many students have become addicted to heroin because you could get it within the university’s compound. Many dealers were operating there; some were students, others were outsiders,” he said, adding that bloody syringes and needles lay scattered over the campus.
Special bins were installed to prevent people from stepping on a discarded needles.
While the UNODC says poverty is the main force driving poppy cultivation, many Kachin residents blame the military.
They claim the drug is used to numb the population from demands for autonomy.
“They can’t eliminate all the Kachin people with bullets. So one key tool is drugs,” Nlam Hkun Aung said.
The Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and its armed sister-group the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have long demanded a federal union with full autonomy. Since 2011, violent clashes between the KIA and government forces have displaced about 100,000 civilians, with many living in some 100 camps across the state.
“We feel that the drug issue is some kind of genocide to our ethnic group,” Nlam Hkun Aung said. “The spread of the drug is their big victory. There is no need to use bullets.”
Around 70 per cent of Myanmar’s opium and heroin are smuggled to China with the assistance of corrupt police, village administrators, border guards and the rebel armies.
The farmers in Myanmar receive around US$350 per kg of raw opium with wholesale prices in the west far exceeding US$3,000, making for an estimated US$2bn trade, according to UNODC data.