In the Vietnamese village of Keo Pratu, 67-year-old Xai Kur says he is "fed up" with the opium crop his family has cultivated for the past 100 years. "In the first place, it is getting more and more difficult to sell. And recently, the district officials have made it clear that anyone selling opium will go to jail", he says. "Basically, the risks are getting too high."
In the Chapare region of Bolivia, where he has lived for 16 years, farmer Luis Choque Flores has stopped growing coca leaf and is now producing pineapple. "I arrived here because of the coca leaf. Everyone told me that with coca you made money. I gave it up in 1992 when we all had to queue up to be paid", he says.
In villages around the world, an increasing number of peasant farmers are turning away from drug crops - some willingly, due to drops in prices, and others with government pressure and assistance. The prices paid to farmers for coca leaf and opium poppy are no longer as attractive as they were, according to Pino Arlacchi, Executive Director of the UN International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP).
And many growers are tiring of the fear, violence, intimidation and uncertainties that are part and parcel of the drug business.
Today's alternative development programmes, designed to prevent and eliminate drug crops, go far beyond crop substitution. Projects are designed, with community input and participation, to help farmers increase yields, market products, generate additional income and raise living standards through improved access to health care, education and clean water.
From 8 to 10 June in New York, the UN General Assembly will hold a special session on the world drug problem. High on the agenda are the issues of alternative development and the eradication of illegal drug crops. The meeting hopes to trigger action and resources to reduce drug demand and supply globally.
Alternative development programmes are under way in many countries. However, at the top of the list are Afghanistan and Myanmar, where about 90 per cent of the world's opium poppy is grown, and where fighting has provided fertile ground for drug crops, and Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, which together account for most of the world's coca crop.
The coca bush and the opium poppy are the basis of the highly addictive drugs cocaine and heroin, which are abused by more than 21 million people around the world.
Reducing opium poppy
cultivation in Asia
In the area of Palavek in Laos, opium cultivation has nearly been eliminated. In 1989, UNDCP, the Lao Government and the villagers embarked on a project to develop new sources of income. Crops with a high profit, such as asparagus and coffee, were introduced, and simple irrigation schemes were developed which yielded more rice. New roads were built, allowing access to markets. Education that related to the real life of the people, such as sewing and agriculture, was introduced, and health care and access to drinking water were improved. Six years after the project started, opium production dropped from 3.5 tonnes to 100 kilograms annually. The incidence of malaria, the main cause of death and disability in the area, was reduced from 48 per cent to 4 per cent, and the number of drug abusers dropped by 50 per cent.
Projects like this, introduced over the last decade, have led to a decline in poppy cultivation in a number of countries. "We have almost eliminated the production of drugs in Pakistan and Thailand", says Mr. Arlacchi.Afghanistan
According to UNDCP, opium production in Afghanistan rose from 200 metric tonnes in 1972 to 2,800 tonnes today. Basically it started to grow during the Soviet occupation and during the war. There were a few farmers growing it before, mainly for medicinal purposes and for poppy seed for bread.
Today about a million Afghanis are directly and indirectly involved in poppy farming. In 1997, some 200,000 farmers cultivated about 58,000 hectares of the drug crop. Most of the opium produced in Afghanistan - 96.4 per cent - comes from provinces under the control of the Taliban, the Islamic nationalist group that now controls most of the country.
In October 1997, as a result of negotiations with the UN, the Taliban confirmed that they were ready to ban production of the opium poppy. However, they admit they cannot reduce cultivation without donor assistance.
A pilot alternative development project now under way involves 5,000 hectares of poppy in two provinces, Nangarhar and Qandahar, located in southern Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan.
UNDCP is testing the commitment of the Taliban on a small scale. Based on compliance, it will then propose to expand the programme. Assistance packages are being developed with the involvement of village communities and local authorities in four districts. The action plans form part of an agreement obliging the farmers to adhere to a phased ban on opium cultivation and the authorities to enforce it.
The opium poppies will eventually be replaced with fruits and vegetables - crops the farmers have grown for centuries. The Afghani farmers were famous in the 1970s for producing top-quality fruit, which was exported to Europe.
UNDCP is working with other UN agencies in Afghanistan by promoting the channeling of their assistance to opium-growing areas. International efforts also focus on monitoring and evaluating drug control activities, surveying the extent of opium poppy cultivation, studying the prevalence of drug abuse and establishing 12 community treatment and intervention teams.
Border areas are also being tightened to stop the flow of drugs through neighbouring countries to western Europe. The trade has spawned rising heroin abuse in Afghanistan, brought by returning refugees, and in Pakistan and India. Moreover, trafficking through Iran and the central Asian republics is thought to be responsible for the growing drug-abuse problem in those countries.
"The aim is to create a security belt around Afghanistan to sever drug-trafficking routes into surrounding countries", says Mr. Arlacchi. Helping in this effort are Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which share a 5,000-kilometre border with Afghanistan. "The border countries are cooperative because Iran and Pakistan have a problem with drugs and the central Asian countries are fully aware that, as transit countries, if they are not serious they will become consumer countries as well", says Mr. Arlacchi.
The total estimated cost for the drug control programme in Afghanistan is $250 million over ten years. If funded, the work is expected to contribute to the eradication of the opium poppy crop and to political stability as well as improved living standards.Myanmar
Opium poppy is grown illicitly as a major cash crop by farmers in the hilly border areas of Myanmar, which is one of the largest opium producers and heroin manufacturers in the world. Heroin abuse and HIV/AIDS are on the rise.
It is estimated that anywhere from 40,000 to 150,000 hectares of opium are under cultivation. The only figures for opium production that have been available are U.S. Government figures, based on satellite photos, and Myanmar Government figures, which differ dramatically. This year the Myanmar Government is undertaking a nationwide opium survey for the first time, with the hope that this will lead to more reliable figures that the various parties will be able to use as a basis for a steady reduction plan.
As part of a ten-year programme, UNDCP is now starting a major alternative development project in the Wa region in the northeast of the country on the border with China - a region estimated to account for 70 per cent of all the opium poppy cultivated in Myanmar.
The project, the first in the area, will focus on community development, alternative livelihoods for farmers, the development of roads to take produce and goods to markets, agriculture and livestock development, extension services to local farmers, and health and education programmes.
The five-year, $15.5-million project took about two years to design and negotiate. The project has been signed by the Governments of Myanmar and China and by UNDCP. The Wa leaders who control the area have endorsed the document and made a commitment to phasing out the opium industry provided alternative sources of income can be secured for opium poppy farmers. Eventually, poppy will be replaced with rice and possibly buckwheat and sugar.
"These Wa community leaders are able to move around, and they have seen the development that is bringing benefits to other parts of the country. They have seen the development that is taking place across the border in China, for instance", a UNDCP official based in Myanmar explains. "They do have some awareness of international sentiment on the illicit opium and heroin trade. Also, their areas are very poor. I believe they genuinely want to see development come to their area through legitimate alternatives."
Reducing coca cultivation in Latin America
Virtually the entire world cocaine output, or 850 tonnes per year, is produced within and adjacent to the borders of Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. Some 180,000 hectares of coca are under active cultivation in these three countries.
Drug traffickers in Colombia account for 60 to 70 per cent of cocaine production, while the balance is refined in Bolivia and Peru.
The Bolivian Government has stated its determination to eliminate all illegal coca plantations by 2002, based on a voluntary eradication programme and an ongoing dialogue with coca growers. The goal is part of a new national drug control plan that was approved in December 1997. "This is the first time there has been a comprehensive strategy with a clear, time-bound objective to eliminate illicit coca crops in Bolivia", says a UNDCP official in the country.
An estimated 50,000 hectares of coca are cultivated in the Cochabamba tropics and the Yungas region in La Paz County.
The situation in Bolivia is unique in Latin America, in that peasants have been individually compensated to eradicate coca. In 1986 and 1987, farmers were paid $350 per hectare; the amount jumped to $2,000 per hectare during the years 1988 to 1993, and payment actually reached $2,900 per hectare in early 1998. However, many farmers simply took the money, moved to a new location and started planting coca again.
Between 1993 and 1996, about 17,600 hectares of coca were eradicated, while 19,060 hectares were planted, according to estimates of the Bolivian Government and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The Government is now phasing out compensation, increasing control over illegal cultivation and demanding that coca farmers soon switch to alternative crops.
Bolivian law stipulates that coca can be legally cultivated for traditional purposes on 12,000 hectares. The rest must go. The anticipated cost of the national alternative development and coca reduction programme for 1998-2002 is $808 million. Coca is being replaced with a mixture of several alternative crops, including pineapple, banana, citrus, peppers, passion fruit and livestock feed. The UNDCP-supported programme is rooted in agroforesty to ensure that economic progress does not come at the expense of the environment. Marketing is becoming less and less of a problem because there are good roads and international cooperation is assisting very much, according to UNDCP.
A large number of growers associations have sprouted in the Chapare region to support alternative development. One example is the Tea Producers Association, AGROTE, which was formed in 1989 and now has over 30 member producers. The Association has expanded the production of green tea from 8,300 kilograms in 1990 to over 145,000 kilos in 1996. Its black tea, which is considered one of the best in Latin America, has been endorsed by the London Tea Institute.
Increased agro-industry and tourism in the Cochabamba tropics is being boosted by private investment, which has risen from about $50,000 in 1992 to an accumulated $4 million today. The challenge now, according to UNDCP, is to get more private investment in coca- producing areas to support alternative development.Colombia
While coca production has fallen in Peru in recent years, it is on the rise in Colombia. Most of the Colombian coca areas are not under State control, but rather in contested areas or areas under the control of the guerillas and paramilitaries. Since the guerillas no longer receive support from Cuba and Moscow, they have to be self-sufficient. Their two sources of income are kidnapping and ransom, and protecting cocaine laboratories and airstrips.
Given the complex situation, a two-pronged approach has been developed, using alternative development and forced eradication. According to UNDCP, half of the coca and more than half of the opium poppy is cultivated by the cartels or by people close to the cartels on commercial plantations. Under the drug control plan, the commercial plantations will be eradicated by the national anti-narcotics police with the assistance of the United States Government.
The UN International Drug Control Programme is working with the Colombian alternative development agency, PLANTE, to assist farmers in moving away from drug crops. Projects are being designed to fit the needs of different areas.
"Some of the cocalero peasants have recently migrated to these areas from the highlands, where there is a shortage of land for many reasons - one being that the drug traffickers have bought up the best land. Some have been displaced by violence", explains a UNDCP official in Colombia. "A lot of them come with no knowledge of the area in which they are living and only know about coca growing. It is much more difficult to work with them because you have to start with the basics regarding other crops. In some other areas, it's long-settled peasants who know how to grow other crops."
Coffee, yucca, rubber and various fruits are being planted to replace coca. Cattle raising and fish farming are other options.
UNDCP says the biggest challenge, which is outside its realm, is to bring peace to troubled areas so that alternative development programmes can begin in these areas.Peru
"UNDCP estimates that in Peru in 1990, over 200,000 hectares were under coca cultivation. Seven years later, it is less than 70,000", according to Pino Arlacchi. In the last two years, coca cultivation in Peru has dropped by about 40 per cent.
One factor is the price reduction of the coca leaf due to lower demand at the farmgate level. This is a result of better control of narco-traffic between Peru and neighbouring countries and an increase in coca leaf cultivation in Colombia to control supply. Another factor is alternative development, which provided peasants with viable economic options to coca production.
The Peruvian Government has made alternative development central to its strategy to reduce coca cultivation by 50 per cent in the next five years and to eliminate illicit cultivation within ten years. The national programme gives priority to the coca-growing areas of the Upper Huallaga, Aguaytia and Apurimac-Ene, accounting for 65 per cent of the area planted with coca.
Due to the drop in the price of coca, many farmers are now getting involved in the actual processing of the leaves to make up for lost income.
Lower prices and increased difficulties for exporting coca have pushed drug traffickers to exploit the local drug market. The spillover effect of new trafficking routes through large coastal cities and the increased availability of drugs have contributed to a rapid increase in drug abuse in Peru in the last three to four years.
And increased abuse has led to a change in Peruvian's attitudes about the cultivation of coca leaf. Public opinion has evolved in Peru and is now supportive of the fight against drugs due to the increased visibility of problems associated with drug abuse and trafficking, according to UNDCP.
During the last 12 years, UNDCP has contributed about $48 million to the Government of Peru to support alternative development efforts. Projects have achieved considerable improvements in the growth and diversification of alternative crops, the creation and strengthening of farmer associations, and the marketing of agro-industrial products.
"Coca is usually grown in valleys where cacao and coffee were traditionally and successfully cultivated", explains a UNDCP official in Peru. "It's easy to start with something that was there before and which the peasants know how to produce. So the first intervention is always based on actual or ex-crops like coffee and cacao. But we have also developed other crops, depending on the area, like heart of palm, which has a very good export potential and is already exported from Peru to France." Another crop that has been expanded is palm trees for the production of palm oil.
All crops that are being developed have a market potential and a yield that can compete with the price of coca. Farmers are earning more growing cacao and coffee than coca. During 1997, Peru exported $386 million worth of coffee, an increase of 77 per cent over 1996.
Role of the international community
Alternative development projects form an integral part of the global fight against drugs. The UN International Drug Control Programme is the organization spearheading worldwide efforts. Experience has shown that projects must be complemented by law enforcement measures and drug demand-reduction programmes if they are to produce lasting benefits.
Another crucial element is monitoring crop cultivation through ground surveys and satellite reconnaissance to ensure that old crops are not being replaced by new ones.
A major lesson that has been learned in alternative development is that community involvement is crucial. The top-down approach of the 1980s has been refined. Dialogue is established with the communities, women's groups and local authorities to help them elaborate their own alternative development plan.
At the United Nations General Assembly special session on the world drug problem in June, it is hoped that Governments will adopt a political declaration committing themselves to take concrete action to reduce the supply of and demand for illicit drugs. One part of the declaration calls for the elimination, or substantial reduction, of all illicit drug cultivation by 2008.
"The strategy is based on cooperation. We will ask for the cooperation of bilateral and multilateral assistance, other UN agencies and NGO partners", says Mr. Arlacchi. "We will fine-tune the plan in cooperation with partners."
Some experts believe the time is ripe for such a bold initiative. "Today the countries are more sensitive to the problems of drugs. They know drugs create problems for the countries where crops are grown, to the region, and also to the international community", says Mr. Arlacchi. "This awareness was not present some years ago and therefore you could not build on the cooperation of neighbouring countries like you can today."
Published by the United Nations Department of Public Information - DPI/1984 - May 1998
UN Department of Public Information
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Sandro Tucci, Spokesman
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