The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says opium poppy cultivation is on the rise in Southeast Asia, most of it in Burma. The increasing cultivation puts in jeopardy recent gains in eradicating opium production in the region.
The U.N. anti-narcotic agency says in 2008 Southeast Asia's major opium-producing countries planted 30,000 hectares of farmland with opium poppies.
That is an increase of 26 percent from 2006.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime representative for East Asia and the Pacific, Gary Lewis, says there is a risk of resurgence in opium production in the region.
"The increase in cultivation is worrying because it indicates the intent to produce more," said Lewis.
Under eradication and crop substitute programs, Southeast Asia's major opium producers - Burma, Laos, and Thailand - saw cultivation drop by 83 percent from 1998 to 2006.
Lewis says a combination of poor farmers with few resources, rising opium prices, and lax law enforcement is to blame for the recent increase.
The U.N. agency says 96 percent of Southeast Asia's opium is produced in Burma, the world's second-largest opium producer. Burma has seen its area of opium cultivation rise by a third since 2006, while the price for opium since 2004 has almost doubled.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime representative in Laos, Leik Boonwaat, says the situation in neighboring Burma is the most challenging.
"Everybody knows the political situation there. And, it is very challenging to get support and provide assistance in many of these areas," he said. "Many of these areas do not have the necessary peace, stability, and security for projects to operate freely. And, that is the biggest challenge we face."
The U.N. agency says Southeast Asia's opium production has not yet caught up with cultivation, and cultivation is not out of control. But, the agency says further development assistance is needed to prevent more farmers from moving to opium and to stop this upswing from becoming a trend.