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Drug eradication: The limits of alternative development
[ Drug eradication ]
The limits of alternative development
Whoever wants to stop the cultivation of drugs must offer farmers an alternative. Mere prohibition and crop destruction will not do. That is why governments and donors have for years been promoting alternative development in countries where illicit crops are grown, such as Afghanistan, Thailand, Peru and Colombia. According to experts, the approach depends, above all, on governmental actors. It cannot succeed without an effective government in the country where the drug crops are grown. The task is similar (and normally related) to stabilising a conflict-torn country.
An operational government and aid from other countries are important factors in the fight against drugs, but they do not suffice. Ethiopia has an effective government and yet the country has become a drug economy by default. Khat, the plant with intoxicating leaves which are enjoyed throughout the Horn of Africa, has become Ethiopias second most important export commodity. A consultant for the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on alternative development, mentioned this example at an international workshop on drug control held by German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the FAO and the EU Commission in late May in Berlin. According to him, alternative development requires, above all, a dynamic private sector, which sees and takes advantage of legal business opportunities; but it should not be forgotten that governments have to support entrepreneurs in this process.
Moreover, alternative development is more than alternative agriculture. It does not help farmers to cultivate a crop other than coca or opium, if there is no comparable market for the alternative product. As the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) pointed out recently, alternative development is often too limited in scope and tends to fail (see D+C/E+Z 4/2006, p. 140). Alternative development, according to the INCB, must be regarded as integrated rural development.
But in some situations even that will not do. Consensus was reached in Berlin that there is a need for jobs outside agriculture. In Afghanistan, for instance, the large number of day labourers who tend to the labour-intensive opium plants, need employment. (Also see interview on p. 304.) In a study for the GTZ, David Mansfield, a drug control expert, reported that eradicating opium cultivation became possible in Thailand because many new jobs were created in the cities thanks to fast economic growth since the 1970s.
In other words, conventional rather than alternative development, based on legal livelihoods, is the key in the fight against drug cultivation. The workshop in Berlin summed up that the fight against drugs is no special development issue, but must become part of all development efforts in the countries affected. Mainstreaming alternative development is the new motto. For instance, it makes sense to investigate whether an irrigation project will give farmers new opportunities, or simply serve to intensify opium production. Mainstreaming also means developmental interventions should consider to what extent farmers economically depend on drug cultivation.
Furthermore, the regional and international drug markets need to be taken into account. Global supplies are unlikely to shrink as long as the demand remains unchanged. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the area for coca cultivation has remained quite stable at almost 200,000 hectares since the late 1980s internationally; only the shares of the three biggest coca growing countries Bolivia, Colombia and Peru have varied.
Last but not least, possible effects on the drug users should also be taken into account. Since the heroin supply from Burma has declined significantly over the past few years, drug addicts in neighbouring India are turning increasingly to a synthetic substitute (Spasmo Proxyvon), which, according to Martin Jelsma from the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, is even more dangerous than heroin. (ell)