(Reuters) - Opium cultivation in military-ruled Myanmar jumped 33% last year, reversing a six-year downward trend in the strife-torn country, a United Nations report said on Thursday.
The growth was "directly connected" to the political and economic turmoil in Myanmar since the military took power in a coup nearly two years ago, an official at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.
"Economic, security and governance disruptions that followed the military takeover of February 2021 have converged, and farmers in remote, often conflict-prone areas... have had little option but to move back to opium," said Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC's regional representative.
A junta spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
Myanmar's economy has declined since the coup, with the kyat currency plummeting against the dollar and food and fuel prices spiralling upwards.
"Without alternatives and economic stability it is likely that opium cultivation and production will continue to expand," warned UNODC Myanmar country manager Benedikt Hofmann.
The cultivated area in 2022 expanded by a third to 40,100 hectares (99,000 acres), while the average estimated yield rose 41% to nearly 20 kg (44 lb) per hectare, the highest value since the UNODC started keeping records in 2002, the report said.
The eastern Shan State, which borders China, Thailand and Laos, saw the biggest increase in cultivation, at 39%.
The 2021 report primarily used satellite data to determine cultivated area.
The value of opium produced annually in Myanmar can reach up to $2 billion, with much of the drug smuggled out to neighbouring countries and on to the global market, the report added.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Gerry Doyle)