U.N. report: Opium cultivation thrives in Asia's 'Golden Triangle'

Story highlights

  • Opium production in southeast Asia's "Golden Triangle" increases for eighth year
  • Poppy cultivation in Myanmar and Laos rose to 63,800 hectares in 2014
  • Myanmar accounts for the vast majority of the region's poppy cultivation

Hong Kong (CNN)Opium production in southeast Asia's "Golden Triangle" has tripled since 2006, fueling an illicit drugs trade worth $16.3 billion, a new United Nations report says.

Poppy cultivation in Myanmar and Laos stood at 63,800 hectares in 2014, compared with 61,200 hectares in 2013 -- increasing for an eighth year, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said in its Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2014.
The region produced approximately 762 tons of opium, which was most likely made into 76 tons of heroin, it said.
    Myanmar accounts for the vast majority of the region's poppy cultivation. Production is particularly entrenched in the northern Shan State, near the Chinese border, where it's a staple part of the economy and helps fund rebel groups, the report added.
    "Surveys of farmers indicate that, for many, the money made from poppy cultivation is an essential part of family income and support," said Yury Fedetov, the executive director of the United Nations on Drugs and Crime, said.
    "Villages threatened with food insecurity and poverty need sustainable alternatives, or they will have little choice beyond growing this cash crop out of desperation," he added.
    The report said there had been an increase in heroin use in China, Laos, Singapore and Thailand in 2014, driving demand for opium.
    The Golden Triangle -- a fabled area that straddles the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand along the Mekong River -- was once the largest heroin-producing area in the world but eradication efforts in the late 1990s and early 2000s saw cultivation fall.
    But production has seen a resurgence since 2006 thanks in part to closer regional integration and better transport infrastructure boosting trade.
      Afghanistan is the world's biggest cultivator of opium poppies.