A poppy field in the Golden Triangle. High opium prices make its cultivation attractive.
BANGKOK: Opium cultivation in Southeast-Asia has doubled since 2006 with significant increases in Myanmar and Laos this year, according to a UN report issued Thursday.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime said the lack of security, political stability and sustainable development was the key reason for a 16 per cent increase in the amount of land sown with poppies in 2011 since just last year.
"Unfortunately, the situation in the region is not positive," said Yuri Fedotov, executive director of the UN agency, in a preface to the report.
He said the picture grows dimmer when combined with the fact that amphetamine-type stimulants are also a growing problem in Southeast-Asia.
"To reverse this situation, the international community needs to better understand the nature of transnational organised crime and drug control in the region," he said.
The estimated value of opium production in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand -- the countries where most of the region's cultivation takes place -- rose 48 per cent in 2011 from last year to $319 million (RM1.02 billion), according to the UNODC.
Fedotov said that high prices for opium had made it more attractive for farmers in the region.
Some 91 per cent of the region's opium cultivation takes place in military-dominated Myanmar, which remains the second largest opium poppy grower in the world after Afghanistan, according to the report.
Among the major contributors worldwide, Myanmar accounted for 23 per cent of opium cultivation in 2011, while Laos accounted for two per cent -- although its cultivation rose by 37 per cent from 2010.
The opium poppy, which has long been grown in Southeast-Asia as a medicinal and cash crop, remains a village-based and very low tech economy, the report said.
It warned that food insecurity was generally high in opium-growing risk areas, calling for increased investment in programmes supporting alternative development for opium poppy growers.
In September, a US narcotics official warned that Myanmar was expected to grow as a global source of heroin and methamphetamines in the years ahead as efforts to stem the flow of drugs from Afghanistan take effect.
Myanmar has said it aims to eradicate illegal drugs by 2014.