WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
17 Mar 2015 | Video

4 Ways to Promote Development and Reduce the Cultivation of Prohibited Plants

The following presentations by WOLA Senior Fellow Coletta A. Youngers and Pien Metaal (Transnational Institute) were made at the 2015 session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna, Austria, on March 12, 2015. The presentations outline effective, rights-respecting approaches to the cultivation of crops deviated to the illicit market. 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Coletta Youngers. I am a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and an Associate at the InternationalDrug Policy Consortium (IDPC).

In terms of what we see happening on the ground, more often than not, alternative development programs are designed with the primary objective of reducing the cultivation of prohibited plants. Such programs may result in short-term reductions in cultivation; however, they inevitably fail to bear fruit in the medium to long term. Hence, the need to promote equitable economic rural development, as we have been discussing this morning. If that is done right, crop reductions will follow.

I would like to put forward four basic principles for promoting equitable economic development in areas where coca and poppy are cultivated:

1. Proper sequencing is crucial: Development must come first

Viable, sustainable livelihoods must be in place prior to significant crop reductions. With proper sequencing, local farmers are more likely to collaborate with crop reduction efforts. Once an alternative livelihoods approach is underway and alternative sources of income are in place, governments and international donor agencies can work with local communities to encourage the gradual elimination of crops deviated to the illicit market. This approach was successful in virtually eliminating poppy production in Thailand, as we have heard about today.

2. Eradication of such crops is counter-productive unless alternative livelihoods are already firmly in place.

Eradication prior to the establishment of alternative livelihoods pushes people deeper into poverty, and fosters human rights violations, social unrest, instability and violence, undermining already tenuous government legitimacy and nascent institution building. Forced eradication can fuel local insurgencies and hence civil conflict and internal displacement.

It also reinforces reliance on growing prohibited plants, as farmers without other viable economic alternatives are forced to replant, and spreads the problems associated with the cultivation of such crops to new areas.

Many development organizations have steered clear of alternative development initiatives that go hand-in-hand with forced eradication. This response is both practical, given the likelihood of failure, and moral, given the consequences of forced eradication for local communities for whom no alternatives are available. Adopting cooperative crop reduction strategies carried out in collaboration with local communities could encourage an array of organizations with sound track records in promoting sustainable development to begin working in areas where crops are produced for illicit markets.

3. The small-scale cultivation of prohibited plants should be decriminalized.

This has been implied in some of the presentations today but should be stated directly. One of the many reasons that forced eradication is counterproductive is that it alienates the very population whose support and involvement is needed for development efforts to be successful. Small farmers typically grow coca or poppy as a last resort; it is a means of obtaining limited cash income for food and other necessities.

Meaningful community participation is a cornerstone of any effective development program.

In Bolivia, allowing limited coca production has ensured food security and allows local farmers to explore and invest in other income generating activities. Collaboration with local communities and organizations is a fundamental pillar of government policy. As a result, Bolivia has seen a steady reduction in coca cultivation in recent years.

4. Alternative livelihoods goals and strategies should be integrated into local, regional and national development plans.

Such an integrated approach should incorporate all of those involved in rural development, including multilateral and international development agencies, the relevant government ministries, regional and local officials, and community and civil society organizations. Some donor agencies, in particular GIZ in Germany, refer to this as “mainstreaming counter narcotics into development programs” or “undertaking development in a drugs environment.”

Ultimately we are talking about promoting equitable economic rural development in some of the poorest regions of the world.

These are some of the issues we would like to see addressed in the debates leading up to and at the 2016 UNGASS, with the direct participation of affected communities.

Thank you.

Pien Metaal
Transnational Institute

We appreciate the opportunity to share our points of view on the issue of Alternative Development with the Commission.  From our work with crop cultivators in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia for the last two decades, we have been able to gather profound insights as to what Alternative Development has meant thus far to the peasants and their families. We sincerely hope this will change in the near future, and the few positive examples of success can be repeated in other regions and communities.

For most farmers unfortunately AD constitutes a hollow phrase of empty promises and disappointing results, if any, understood to lure them into so-called voluntarily eradication of their crops, leaving them and their families without any income and dire poverty and debts.  Good intentions alone have proved insufficient to address the complex issues of agricultural developmental challenges, instable international market prices, access to land and the ongoing social conflicts in rural communities around the world.

First and foremost the issue needs to be addressed in conjunction with supply reduction policies. It should not need much explanation to understand the tremendous negative impact of forced eradication, by military style operations and aerial spraying, on rural communities. It is the worst possible start of building relationship between these communities and the state, and had proven to be one of the root causes of the failure of developmental projects, in all regions. Conditioning AD participation to previous eradication should therefore without any doubt be abandoned as a policy, since it has proved to be counterproductive. As long as the amount of hectares eradicated remains the main indicator for drug policy success, sustainable development loses.

Secondly, sustainable rural development is a challenge in itself, and the prohibition of cultivating coca, cannabis or opium poppy has caused these crops to get a status of such high revenue, that there is no serious alternative to compete in an economic sense.

Moreover, the traditional uses of these plants have come under threat as a result of these policies, causing the violation of indigenous and human rights of the affected populations.

Finally, peasants’ families around the world are being criminalized, prosecuted and locked up as a result of current policies.  Their crime is to want to live of the land and feed their families with revenues of a crop that sells. This should never be the intention of global drug control.

The voice of the primary stakeholders will be represented in the preparations for UNGASS through the organisation of a Global Forum of Producers of Prohibited Plants. Their participation in the design and implementation of development policies are fundamental, and they will contribute to the CSTF efforts to ensure this is effectively the case.