Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2023: Cultivation, production, and implications



Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2023: Cultivation, production, and implications

21 December 2023
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

Southeast Asia continues to be an important region for the production of opium and heroin. In 2023, UNODC estimated opium poppy cultivation and opium production separately in Myanmar, which is monitored annually, and in Lao PDR, which had not been surveyed since 2015. From these two surveys, important, diverging trends across the region stand out. Cultivation and production in Myanmar expanded for a third consecutive year, although poppy cultivation levels remain below historic highs. Estimates for Lao PDR are slightly down from when last surveyed in 2015. However, without more recent estimates, it is impossible to assess present trends.

Poppy cultivation in the Southeast Asia has generally been characterized by traditional practices of smallscale cultivation in poorly organized plots, often as a cash crop, but also for household use. There are a variety of drivers behind illicit crop cultivation and drug production. Opium poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia is closely linked to poverty, lack of government services, challenging macroeconomic environments, instability, and insecurity.

Globally, other events may also be relevant to the future of poppy cultivation and opium production in Southeast Asia. In 2022, the de facto authority in Afghanistan reimposed a strict ban on poppy cultivation and opium production, resulting in a 95% decline in production estimates in 2023. This development, if sustained, could result in global shortages of opiates, including heroin, given Afghanistan’s historically dominant role in illegal production of opium. A global shortage in opiates, including heroin, could result in upward pressure on the price of opium in the region, which would likely encourage more cultivation and production from Southeast Asia.

Developments in the region will need to be monitored in the coming years. Improving the economic situation and reducing insecurity and instability in the region will be critical to reverse a growing upward trend in drug production and trafficking in Southeast Asia