|Illicit Drugs: Social Impacts and Policy Responses (UNRISD, 1994, 19 p.)|
|POLICY OPTIONS: WHAT IS TO BE DONE?|
In drug producing regions, the creation of alternative income opportunities through agrarian and other kinds of reform has been proposed to wean existing and potential growers away from production and trade in illicit drugs. Such strategies are termed alternative development. They are intended to address the reason that so many farmers in developing countries grow drug crops in spite of the risk involved: the fact that they have no other comparable economic opportunities. This approach recognizes that, in order to achieve long-run success, it is necessary to integrate peasants, producers and traffickers into the social and economic mainstream, and it emphasizes tailoring interventions to specific local level needs.
Alternative development in its many guises (e.g. crop substitution, socio-economic development, integrated rural development) has been attempted most vigorously in Bolivia and Thailand. Alternative development is more politically acceptable than more direct ways of reducing illicit drug supplies, since it promises new income opportunities within a context of socio-economic development. However, continued interdiction programmes are required for alternative development to work: disruption of the network of processors and traffickers reduces demand for raw drug crops, and thus leads to a fall in prices that is necessary for alternative economic activities to become attractive.
Alternative development in Bolivia has been enshrined in elaborate legislation based on the assumption that the failure of rural development has caused peasants to move into coca production. The Bolivian government, the United Nations and the US government vigorously support the policy of promoting rural development so that coca production will decline. Unfortunately, the programme has had relatively little impact to date, for numerous reasons. First, coca remains economically attractive compared to the alternatives: the income differential between coca and even the most remunerative non-drug crop remains large, coca plants yield an income within 12 months of planting, they have a long life, and they produce four crops a year. Second, coca is well suited to the social and economic conditions in Bolivia: it requires little technology and only manual labour for picking, and it has a well-established and nearby market not impeded by the poor transportation infrastructure of the region.
In addition, alternative development schemes in some areas have suffered from an emphasis on infrastructure rather than people, as well as from institutional in fighting and inadequate funding. In practice, the farmer participation envisioned by the programmes has not materialized, resources have been inefficiently allocated, and the market potential for proposed alternative crops has not been adequately researched. Another problem is that the balloon effect has contributed to the failure of even relatively successful regional alternative development programmes to make a significant impact on the global illicit drug trade (just as regional crop eradication and interdiction programmes have not been able to make a global impact). Thus, although alternative development initiatives are clearly a good idea, in practical terms a significant reduction of illicit drug production will not necessarily be their main outcome.