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close this bookIllicit Drugs: Social Impacts and Policy Responses (UNRISD, 1994, 19 p.)
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View the documentPRODUCTION
View the documentTRAFFICKING
View the documentCONSUMPTION


Considerable legitimate production of drugs occurs for medical and scientific purposes. India is a large producer of licitopium, and Bolivia and Peru produce between them about 20,000 tons of legal coca leaves each year for traditional or medical uses. Production estimates for legal drug crops are much more accurate than for illegal ones: even under the best of circumstances, illicit drug production figures are only rough estimates because of the clandestine nature of much of the drug trade. Nevertheless, the main producing and trafficking countries are known to be Afghanistan, Bolivia, Colombia, Iran, Pakistan, Peru and Thailand.

Drug production and trade create both benefits and liabilities for the principal producing countries. Illicit drugs can be very important to the national economy: in Bolivia, for instance, the coca-cocaine economy has generated more revenue than any other single export in recent years. Supplying drugs to an international market has benefited hundreds of thousands of previously marginalized people. Poor farmers in many drug producing countries have earned more money, experienced more social mobility and exercised more power over their destiny and that of their children than perhaps at any time in this century. Moreover, although a large proportion of drug profits leaves rural areas, drug crop production does create economic multipliers in drug growing areas, where new money is spent on a better mix of necessities (food, shelter, clothing) and luxury goods (radios, televisions, trucks). As locally produced goods are purchased, cottage and service industries develop and regional economies generally become more active. If all these benefits originated from legitimate activities, the world would herald them as a positive sign of progress and improvement in the less developed countries.

However, involvement in underground and corrupt activities also brings problems: in many countries, violence escalates, in some cases farmers fall victim to the traffickers, and end up growing drug crops for low economic returns. Traditional social values tend to be eroded as illegality permeates a society, and people become less inclined to accept the norms on which consensus politics rest.

In addition, severe environmental damage can be caused by drug production. Drug crops themselves are not necessarily detrimental to the environment (indeed, coca protects against soil erosion in some steep hillsides in Bolivia) unless they are grown on fragile or inappropriate land, as is sometimes done to avoid detection. More serious problems result from the chemicals used in the initial stages of drug processing being dumped into rural streams and rivers.

Why Do People Continue To Grow Illicit Drug Crops?

Poverty and the absence of attractive alternative economic opportunities are the main factors contributing to growers’ continued involvement in drug production. The principal drug growing regions are among the most impoverished and economically stagnant in the world, and in many of them levels of living are declining, in part as a result of structural adjustment programmes. In many of these rural areas, illegal drug growers can make from 10 to 50 times more in provisioning the illegal drug market than they can in any other agricultural pursuit. Thus it is not surprising that growers cultivate coca, opium and cannabis. Although producing drug crops involves risk, the high returns they yield make these crops preferable to other less risky agricultural activities for many people.