WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
8 Dec 2009 | News

Development First A More Promising Approach to Reducing Cultivation of Crops for Illicit Markets

Unless alternative livelihoods are already firmly in place, eradication of coca and opium poppy crops is counter-productive, according to a new WOLA study.

The report was released today at a Capitol Hill briefing in cooperation with Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chair of the International Development Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Representative John Tierney (D-MA), Chair of the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"Crop eradication without real alternative livelihoods for farmers has been a recipe for replanting," said John Walsh, WOLA's Senior Associate for Drug Policy and co-author of the report, "because eradication exacerbates poverty, undermines security and hinders governance."  Indeed, despite years of aggressive crop eradication efforts, overall coca and poppy production has remained robust, and cocaine and heroin prices have fallen sharply since the early 1980s.  According to U.S. government estimates, the area under coca cultivation each year in the Andean region has hovered near 200,000 hectares for nearly two decades.

The new WOLA report, Development First, identifies ten lessons learned for promoting alternative livelihoods, based on decades of evidence in countries from Thailand and Burma to Afghanistan and the Andes.  Among the lessons is that proper sequencing is crucial:  development must come first.  Also, development assistance should not be made contingent on the prior elimination of coca or poppy crops.  As has been the case in Colombia, such policies deny aid to precisely those communities most dependent on growing crops for illicit markets and in greatest need of assistance.

"The reason why eradication prompts replanting and crop dispersion is hardly a mystery," said Coletta Youngers, Senior Fellow at WOLA and co-author of the report.  "The vast majority of growers are poor, small-scale farmers, so the rapid destruction of their primary source of income worsens their poverty – reinforcing rather than easing their reliance on these crops."

Development First demonstrates why it is no coincidence that policies that worsen poverty and undermine governance cannot achieve their drug control aims.  The report is also clear that successful pursuit of development goals will not be easy or quick.  But according to Youngers, "Surely it's better to build success gradually than to rush constantly into one predictable failure after another."

Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill proposing the creation of a commission of experts to take a serious look at drug policy. The bill, H.R. 2134, would create an independent "Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission" to recommend how to improve domestic and international drug policies, an implicit recognition that the current drug control strategy is not working. In addition, the Obama Administration will soon unveil its new National Drug Control Strategy, which is considered likely to place greater emphasis on demand reduction than previous strategies.  "Promoting effective alternative livelihoods should become the cornerstone of U.S. international drug control policy," said Walsh.  "It's the only way to have a real, lasting impact."


To coordinate interviews with the authors or briefing speakers contact Kristel Mucino, WOLA's Communications Coordinator, [email protected]; +617-584-1713.



Vanda Felbab-Brown:  Fellow, Foreign Policy, 21st Century Defense Initiative, The Brookings Institution, author of Shooting Up: Counterinsurgency and the War on Drugs.

Tom Kramer:  Researcher, Drugs and Democracy Program, Transnational Institute (TNI), The Netherlands.  Mr. Kramer has just returned from two weeks research in Afghanistan.

James T. Smith:  Independent consultant, former Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator, USAID Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade, co-author of a recent evaluation of Plan Colombia prepared for USAID.

Carlos Rosero:  Founder, Black Communities Process (PCN), Colombia.

Coletta Youngers:  Senior Fellow, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), co-author of WOLA's new report, Development First.