Alternative Development And Drug Control

25 January 2006
Article
 
Martin Jelsma

Alternative Development And Drug Control
A Critical Assessment
Martin Jelsma
Keynote speech International Conference on The Role of Alternative Development in Drug Control and Development Cooperation
Feldafing, Germany, 8 January 2002


  • Introduction
  • Everybody Knows
    • Absence of Global Impact
    • Pakistan
    • Thailand
    • Peru
    • The Margins of Policy Intervention
  • The Failed Balance
    • A Short History
    • Eradication and Alternative Development
    • SCOPE
    • The Action Plan
    • The Wedlock Sealed
    • The Plague is Coming
    • Escalation in the Andes
    • A Grim Picture
  • A Harm Reduction Approach
    • The Baby and the Bath Water
    • Conditio sine qua non
    • Harm Reduction for the Production Side
    • An Open Debate
  • Bibliography

"Everybody Knows..".

Everybody knows the fight was fixed:
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes. Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows the captain lied
Everybody knows the deal is rotten:
Old Black Joe's still pickin' cotton
or your ribbons and bows. And everybody knows

Everybody knows its coming apart:
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart before it blows.
And everybody knows.

"Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson"


Introduction

Almost ten years ago, Bernardo started to participate in an alternative development project in the Caguán region of Caquetá, southern Colombia, planting rubber trees among his three hectares of coca. A process of 'natural eradication' began when the growing rubber trees gradually shaded out the coca plants until they starved of sunlight. Bernardo replaced them with cocoa bush, which thrives in the shade. He also obtained a subsidy to start a fishpond near his finca. After seven years, his rubber trees had grown enough to finally begin harvesting latex. Rubber latex has similar advantages to coca-paste: it is non-perishable and easy to transport out of that isolated region. Then armed helicopters appeared on the horizon, followed by a spraying aircraft. In half an hour, his dream was gone. Though determined to become less dependent on coca and create viable alternatives for his family, Bernardo saw a decade of work destroyed before his eyes. Roundup also fell on his family home, orchard and fishpond. One week later, his children were ill with nausea and diarrhoea, the entire fish stock in his pond had died, the cocoa had blackened and the rubber plantation was seriously damaged. Many rubber trees were dead and from those still standing hung weakened and shrivelled leaves. When I visited Bernardo some nine months after the spraying, the only crop that was completely recovered was the small coca plot that he had kept, as a reserve, next to the rubber plantation. Again this family was forced to depend almost entirely on coca. At least 42 families involved in the programme underwent the same fate. Spotted by satellite, the traces of coca still growing in the vicinity were used as a justification to target the entire project area for spraying and to deny the victims any compensation for their losses.

This dramatic example is the first one to spring to mind when I think about the possibilities of alternative development (AD). The extreme circumstances in Colombia might provide too dark a starting point for this debate, exemplified by my inspiration from Leonard Cohen's song "Everybody knows", but Bernardo's case truly symbolises the main arguments laid out in the three sections of this paper:

Firstly, the consequences of a persisting unrealistic 'Zero option' mentality and the absurd trumpeting of success stories used to shout down the wide recognition of the overall failure and impotence of the current policy to influence in any serious way the supply-side of the global illicit drugs market, be it with AD or forced eradication;

secondly, serious preoccupation about an increasing acceptance, these recent years, of the alleged need to integrate AD concepts into a so-called comprehensive "three-pronged strategy of eradication, interdiction, and alternative development", which is especially worrying when the ongoing intensification of the use of force in this 'carrot and stick' approach is considered;

and thirdly, the pressing need to prevent these developments from blowing apart the 'Sacred Heart' that alternative development represents within the global drugs policy debate, and hence the need to identify its best practices and to de-link these from the current repressive anti-drug policies that "cause more harm than drugs themselves", as the invitation to this conference confirms.

Everybody Knows

This section addresses "the basic question of what can Alternative Development interventions realistically hope to achieve, given the growing demand for illicit drugs and the continuing prevalence of rural poverty", formulated by the conference convenors. In part, it merely intends to disclose what everybody knows. It is essential, however, to begin by cutting away some of the dead wood that continues to distort any open and informed debate geared towards developing better policy options for the future.

Absence of Global Impact

Everybody knows that 25 years of attempts to reduce supply have had no measurable impact at the global level. Overall figures of illicit cultivation of opium poppy and coca are relatively stable, measured in hectares, and due to higher yield results per hectare production, estimates in metric tons for opium/heroin and coca/cocaine have shown a clear upward trend over the past decade. [US Department of State 2001] In the principal consumption markets, wholesale and retail prices show a consistent downward trend while purity levels are rising, revealing that there is no shortage on the market. [UNDCP 2000b] The combined efforts of AD, eradication and interdiction have not been able to intervene on the availability of illicit drugs to the point that the downward price trend might be reversed, which was the whole point of the exercise, based from the start on the assumption that higher prices would reduce consumption.

This basic fact is recognized by everyone. The statistics may be inaccurate but there are sufficient data from different sources pointing in the same direction. The question is what to do with this information. Many have come to the conclusion that this recognition should lead to a global evaluation: re-asses the applied principles; open the debate to examine other market regulating models; experiment with other approaches; challenge the wisdom of the conventions. On the other hand, many politicians and drug policy officials maintain that the reason the 'medicine' has not worked is that not enough has been applied and that the logical response should thus be to apply a stronger dosage: re-affirm political commitment; close ranks behind a US-led escalation in forced eradication combined with more massive investments in AD, largely from European donors.

This re-affirm camp desperately tries to fight what Pino Arlacchi, Executive Director of UNDCP, calls the "psychology of despair" in the latest World Drug Report: the accumulated demoralisation, frustration and despair about the dream of living in a drug-free world. Setting tighter deadlines and a get-serious approach is the appropriate path to "escape this negative mindset". To neutralize the undeniable statistics on a world scale, a number of local success stories about diminishing drug crops are trumpeted to argue that, if applied consistently, success can be repeated in the remaining pockets where cultivation is now concentrated and that the strategy can achieve major breakthroughs at the global level, thus ultimately eliminating coca and opium poppy from the planet completely.

The UN World Drug Report argues: "Although the media sometimes likes to focus on the disappointments in drug control, the fact is that most alternative development projects have been successful. In Bolivia, the area of coca bush cultivation was estimated at about 50,000 hectares in 1997, of which 12,000 hectares in the Yungas are considered licit cultivation. In 1999, the government eliminated 14,000 hectares of illicit coca, surpassing its own record from the previous year. The country began year 2000 with barely 10,000 hectares of illicit cultivation remaining which is a 78% decrease in only three years. [..] This is an unprecedented achievement and deserves worldwide recognition. Similarly, coca cultivation in Peru decreased from a peak of 129,000 hectares in 1992 to 38,000 hectares in 1999. In Pakistan opium poppy cultivation has been reduced from approximately 800 tonnes in 1980 to about 9 tonnes in 1999. In Laos, Thailand, Bolivia and others, success stories are many".

Let us briefly review the success stories in each of the three main production regions - southwest and southeast Asia and the Andean region - in order to examine to what extent those national reductions can be attributed to the implementation of AD programmes, what roles forced eradication and law enforcement have played and what other factors influenced the change in the country's role in the regional illicit drugs economy. The principal question to address here is the causality between substantive local reductions and policy interventions, in order to establish whether we could expect similar results in other countries. Subsequently the thesis can be tested whether it is viable to prevent the recognized problem of the 'balloon effect' of displacement to neighbouring countries by applying the same 'comprehensive strategy' everywhere.

Pakistan

The quoted opium production recorded in '79/'80 of an estimated 800 tonnes from 32,578 hectares, was the peek moment in a short boom that began only in 1976 and was decimated to 3,543 hectares in just one year. In 1976, the first crop substitution programme was started, the UN Buner Agricultural Development Project, with an investment of $11.36 million over a ten-year project period. The decline of opium poppy cultivation in the Buner district, however, was not more rapid than in other districts where no such initiatives were undertaken in the same period. There is no way to argue that the nation-wide decimation in 1980 had any relationship whatsoever with the development programme.

Pakistan has a history of small-scale licit opium production for medicinal purposes and a tradition of substantial domestic opium consumption, for which large quantities of opium had to be imported. Throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, the government maintained a policy of legal sales of opium to registered addicts through the opium-vend system. The illicit cultivation boom during the second half of the 70s has been accredited to: the breaking up, in 1973, of the French Connection as the main supply channel for heroin to Europe, and the effectuation of a ban on opium poppy cultivation in Turkey and Iran. "International and regional demand factors and the subsequent shifting of sources of supply appear as the major reason for the sudden production of record crops in Pakistan. A major policy shift took place in Pakistan in 1979 with the promulgation of the Hadd Ordinance prohibiting production, sales and consumption of all drugs. As a result, the drug economy went fully underground. The record harvest in 1979 led to a crash in farmgate prices and a decrease in poppy sowing in the subsequent years. Pakistan has never resumed major opium production". [UNDCP 1994]

In many respects, 1979 was a decisive year for the whole region. "Following the revolution in Iran, the outbreak of conflict in Afghanistan and the closure of opium vends in Pakistan, production patters and trafficking routes changed significantly". [UNDCP 1998] Cultivation started to boom in Afghanistan, where opium became an important factor in the war economy and processing facilities mushroomed across the border, transforming Pakistan into a major heroin processing and exporting country in the 80s. The closure of the opium vends, the sharp decline of domestic poppy cultivation and the quantities of cheap heroin flooding the market, made many opium users start to shift to heroin, giving Pakistan nowadays the reputation of having the largest heroin consumer population in the world.

Halfway into the 80s, opium prices inside Pakistan re-established and cultivation started to slowly increase again, reaching a new top by 1992 of some 181 tonnes from 9,608 hectares, still far behind the earlier record. To counter this resurgent cultivation, between 1986-1997 USAID, UNDCP and GTZ invested more than $150 million in rural development to achieve illicit crop reduction. The largest AD project in this phase was the UNDCP Dir District Development Project, spending $38.5 between 1989 and 1998.

The decimation of 1980 had occurred without any need for eradication. In 1983, the 'carrot and stick' concept was introduced with the adoption of the Special Development and Enforcement Plan for the Opium-producing Areas of Pakistan (SDEP): "Enforcement will begin in each area when development activity is apparent and will aim at complete elimination of poppy cultivation prior to the planned termination of the development project". The approach aimed to "...develop alternative income opportunities and to ensure that enforcement of the opium ban can be carried out at reduced hardship and at reasonable cost".

In practice, however, the concept was not implemented until a decade later and then still in a mildly repressive form, compared to many countries. "While development activities were implemented, enforcement lagged. (..) In 1987, in Gadoon Amazai where USAID funded a project, poppy fields were destroyed, but in the resulting conflict several people were killed. It was only in 1993 that government agencies felt comfortable putting pressure on poppy cultivation. 'Enforcement' usually meant that farmers were warned or encouraged during the time of sowing not to grow poppies but to plant wheat or other crops. During the harvest, only a few poppy fields were destroyed. Often this seemed sufficient to deter farmers". [GTZ 1998b]

The expansion between 1985 and 1992 was effectively countered, with 1995 being the breaking point. "This may be partly related to the increase in Afghanistan, but it is certainly also attributable to the effects of rural development activities as well as the government's determination to take firm action against opium production. The mix of development and enforcement varied from area to area. In Dir, for example, more comprehensive development assistance meant that a considerable reduction was possible in 1996, although only about 40 hectares were eradicated. In Bajaur, on the other hand, more than 500 hectares were eradicated in 1996, that is, more than half of the cultivated area". [GTZ 1998b] In the course of the project period, the Dir district switched from being one of the poorest regions of the country to being one of the most developed.

Thailand

In Thailand, opium production dropped from 146 tonnes in 1968 to only 5 to 6 tonnes being reported nowadays. On many points, similarities with the Pakistan example can be drawn. First, the most substantial decrease took place without any crop substitution or eradication interventions. By 1975, production had already halved to 68 tonnes, which, by 1980, had dropped below 20 tonnes. Although there was a first crop substitution programme running in this period - the Thai/UN Crop Replacement and Community Development Programme (1972-1979) - no relationship with the dramatic downfall can be substantiated. Nor was there a relationship with the formally existing opium ban (since 1959) because the ban was not accompanied by any enforcement measures until the 1980s. Although never thoroughly analysed, the only explanation is that there was an adjustment to regional illicit market developments, largely triggered by the situation of conflict throughout the southeast Asia region at the time, which led to a sharp rise in opium production in neighbouring Burma. We cannot speak, therefore, in terms of a 'balloon effect', usually understood to be crop displacement as a consequence of policy interventions. Here, as in fact in many cases, the causal relationship is a reverse one: changes in regional production and trafficking patterns prompted many Thai growers to shift to other means of survival.

The trend was reinforced by a natural disaster, which then led to a rebound. "In the years from 1978 to 1982, the region was affected by a continuous drought which halved opium production. As a result, the price of opium tripled. This then tempted the mountain peoples to return to opium. The authorities intervened immediately". [Oomen 1998] Like in Pakistan, this was the moment the 'carrot and stick' approach was introduced, but in Thailand with a much stronger repressive component, especially from 1985. This intervention was aimed to counter a relatively modest recovery of Thai opium production of levels between 30-40 tonnes around 1985, gradually winding down over the next decade. A wide variety of donors invested $95 million in AD, the largest being the UN and GTZ. As with the Dir project in Pakistan, within the project areas a measurable impact can be established. According to GTZ: "In the areas of the five projects funded by the United Nations between 1985 and 1994, opium production dropped from about 19 to 8 metric tonnes. In the areas covered by the Thai-German Highland Development Programme, poppy cultivation was reduced from as much as nine metric tonnes in the beginning of the project to probably less than 200 kilograms by 1996. In Thailand on the whole, less than five tonnes were harvested in 1997". [GTZ 1998]

The programmes formed part of an overall development effort with the indigenous communities in the highland areas and had much broader objectives than mere opium reduction. Finding a balance between development and forced eradication operations proved difficult: "The German project administration had requested ONCB [Office of the Narcotics Control Board-the Thai co-ordinating agency] to wait with these operations until the moment where crop substitution had been able to produce its first results. That request has not always been respected". [Oomen 1998]

Like Pakistan, Thailand also developed into a major heroin processing and exporting country, with facilities located along the Burmese border. In combination with the sharply reduced availability of opium for domestic consumption, this led to a dramatic increase in heroin consumption and abuse. This raises fundamental questions about the ultimate goals of these types of international drug policy interventions and the co-responsibility for unintended collateral damage. Thailand has a history of traditional opium consumption, not carefree but clearly more manageable than the heroin crisis the country is now experiencing. When these international initiatives aimed at reducing opium production started, it is unlikely that substantial exports to international markets took place from Thailand. The production, to a considerable extent, was consumed domestically. The rationale for the intervention, however, did come from a preoccupation about rising heroin abuse in Western countries. So, what exactly was the consideration behind going to Thailand to attempt to find a solution for that crisis? What problem needed to be solved over there? If the goal had been to address the problems related to domestic Thai opium consumption, no doubt other approaches would have been chosen and much better options would have been available. In the end, the situation of domestic drugs abuse has deteriorated dramatically, and it is very difficult to claim that intervention has reduced the supply to international markets - not just because reduction was compensated for in Burma, but because, at most, very marginal quantities of Thai opium ever made it across the border anyway. All this adds doubts about how to value exactly the success story of the elimination of opium poppy cultivation in Thailand.

Peru

Coca production in Peru declined drastically, dropping from a high of 129,100 hectares in 1992 to just 34,200 reported for 2000. A steep gradual reduction took place starting in 1992, showing a yearly reduction, from 1995 onwards, of between 18 and 27%. Initially this was hailed as a stunning success for US interdiction policies, accrediting the price crash to the 'Air Bridge Denial' strategy disrupting the aerial transport of coca paste to processing facilities in Colombia. Supposedly, the shoot down policy, radar tracking and interception of aircraft led to a surplus of coca paste on the Peruvian market. To share in the credits, UNDCP incorporated Peru into the list of 'success stories' attributed to the comprehensive strategy combining AD with law enforcement.

International concern about rising cocaine consumption started later than for heroin, so interventions in the Andean region only began in the 1980s. In 1981, USAID initiated a first crop substitution effort in the Alto Huallaga Valley, where most coca destined for processing into cocaine was grown. Since 1985, the UN has become involved in AD programmes, and several other donors have joined the effort later. Peru never declared a ban on coca, protecting its substantial traditional and fully harmless coca consumption and challenging its inclusion in the List 1 of prohibited substances of the UN Convention. Only between 1983 and 1989, and under severe US pressure, a series of manual forced eradication operations were carried out, approximately 2,600 hectares per year. The tensions created and the effect it had on strengthening guerrilla forces made the government reconsider its decision. Since then, only sporadic eradication has occurred, largely destined to soothe the US when its annual certification time approaches. It always triggers fierce protests from the peasant unions. Overall, efforts were largely focused on AD 'without a stick'. Over the period '87-'96, some $190 million were invested. Many mistakes but also several promising initiatives are traceable to this period. Some can claim local reduction in the project area. The combined effort, however, did not manage to influence the growing tendency on a nation-wide scale; at best it may have contained a stronger growth that otherwise might have occurred.

Thorough research done about the complex factors that led to the Peruvian coca crash, undertaken by Hugo Cabieses, Roger Rumrrill and Ricardo Soberón, enable a more convincing explanation of its causes. Again, it had to do with structural changes in the regional illicit drugs economy, combined with intensification of the armed conflicts in Peru itself and in Colombia, reinforced by a natural disaster. The first serious rupture was caused by the crackdown on Colombia's Medellin Cartel, which had an immediate impact on prices in Peru due to Peru's monodependence on Colombian buyers of coca paste. Coca prices in the Alto Huallaga plummeted from the records in 1987 of $4.52 per kg coca leaf and $2,000 per kg coca paste, to $0.76 and $390 respectively by 1990. Added to the intensification of the war against Shining Path in 1988-1990 in the Alto Huallaga, and an outbreak of the Fusarium Oxysporum fungus in the Valley in 1992-1993, coca crops were halved in the area from 61,000 in 1992 to 28,900 in 1994.

The above situation led to the migration of coca farmers out of Alto Huallaga to the Aguaytía Basin, the Apurimac area and the San Martín Valley, where coca cultivation increased those years and new buying lines were established. Coca prices fluctuated locally, but coca paste price only slowly recovered towards the end of 1994. Then, between January and September 1995, coca prices in the Huallaga Valley fell again from $3 per kg to $0.40, and of coca paste from $850 per kg to $100. This second price crash coincided with the dismantling of the Cali Cartel into many smaller local groups and the intensification of the armed conflict in Colombia, jointly causing the coca explosion there. Between '88 and '93 coca production in Colombia was still stable, from 35-40,000 hectares, and then it jumped from 45,000 in 1994 to 136,200 hectares in 2000 (162,000 according to UN figures).

The drop in Peruvian coca production happened without eradication and it is difficult to argue that AD strategies could have had any impact on the developments described. The opposite effect is obvious: the chances for successful implementation of AD projects increased significantly with the fall in coca prices. It may prove to have been a missed opportunity in the sense that, these past years, more substantial AD interventions might have helped to consolidate these changes, by securing farmers a solid basis for survival without the coca plots they were abandoning anyway. However, most recent trends indicate a recovery of prices, an increase of coca cultivation in areas nearer the Colombian border, the beginning of opium poppy cultivation and the consolidation of independent Peruvian processing and trafficking groups with their own international routes. Given the intensification of fumigations in Colombia, the recently claimed 'total victory' by military forces over illegal coca in Bolivia, and the expected classical balloon effect that both will trigger, the question is how long Peru can still stay on the list of success stories.

The Margins of Policy Intervention

Based on the descriptions above, some dead wood can be cut away and several conclusions can be drawn:

  • No significant measurable impact has been made so far on a region wide or global level through supply-side interventions, not through AD, not through eradication;
  • Structural increases and decreases of illicit cultivation obey largely to the workings of the illicit drugs economy and its driving forces like demand patterns (also local ones as in Thailand and Pakistan), price trends, trafficking routes and composition of entrepreneurial structures and geopolitical developments especially around armed conflicts. The margins to intervene in this through AD or eradication are very small.
  • The big shifts that have taken place at national levels cannot be claimed to be successful outcomes of balanced policy intervention. Therefore they provide no basis for the assumption that widespread and more intense implementation of the same strategies would have an impact at a regional or global scale.
  • Locally within the covered project areas, there are several cases where AD has measurably contributed to consolidating downward trends and to preventing or countering rebounds.
  • Such local impacts have occurred both with and without simultaneous application of forced eradication, belying the generalised assumption that one of the 'key lessons from successful examples is the need to accompany AD with systematically applied disincentives through eradication and law enforcement'.
  • Law enforcement aimed to weaken the driving trafficking structures in a region, can have considerable impact on price developments and cultivation patterns within a country or region, and thereby on the potential to increase the local impact of AD projects. Still, they only cause temporary disruptions or displacements and the illicit market has shown the capacity to adjust to such changes.

The Failed Balance

A Short History

Three decades of experimenting with developmental strategies to shift farmers away from illicit crops have brought many improvements to the underlying concept. The narrow approach in the 1970s of simple crop substitution - the eternal search for more profitable licit crops -, was broadened in the 1980s to integrated rural development, focusing on finding alternative sources of income and improving quality of life by incorporating infrastructure improvements, better access to markets and to health and education facilities. As the latest UN World Drug Report states: "However, integrated rural development projects, as they were designed, still failed to meet expectations. They were costly and administratively complex. Reductions in illicit crop cultivation were invariably short lived. One key flaw was that local communities participated little, if at all, in the actual design of the programmes themselves. This drawback led, predictably, to inappropriate - or at the very least, sub-optimal - project design". Therefore, in the early 1990s, the current framework of AD was developed: a participatory approach, more attention to household decision making processes, taking into account overall framework conditions for development, and linking the objective of reducing illicit cultivation to broader sustainable developmental goals. In the most advanced policy documents, like the ones produced by the GTZ Drugs and Development programme, the word 'eradication' is used more often in relation to poverty than in relation to drugs.

These conceptual improvements were accompanied during the 1980s by trends in the global drugs policy debate. The discourse within the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, developed in a direction acknowledging the 'shared responsibility' between the north and the south in addressing the global drug issue. It was widely recognized that the agricultural crisis in developing countries was a factor contributing to the expansion of the illegal economy and therefore developmental assistance was needed to provide viable alternatives to the peasant communities. The discourse also emphasized the north's responsibility, including the issues of demand reduction, chemical precursors used to process raw material, money laundering and synthetic drug production. In keeping with the discourse of 'shared responsibility,' in 1990 the UN founded its drug control programme (UNDCP) by focusing on two priorities, demand reduction and alternative development.

In the 1990s, however, given the continuous rise in consumption and production of illegal drugs, it became more widely acknowledged that the drug control efforts of the last decades had largely failed. A polarization becomes more and more visible between the earlier mentioned schools of thought on the next stage: for some, the time has come to re-assess current anti-drug policies; others conclude that there is a need to re-affirm the agreed principles and apply current policies with more force to achieve concrete results. The two visions clashed at the Special Session on Drugs of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS), which took place in June 1998, ten years after the adoption of the Vienna Convention. The delicate compromises reached and the continuing polarization since, have had profound consequences for the AD concept and its application in practice.

Eradication and Alternative Development

When the agenda setting for UNGASS started back in 1997, several delegations stressed that the upcoming global event should mark the end of the 'era of finger-pointing' in drug policy controversies. The old dichotomy between producer and consumer countries should give way to the principle of 'shared responsibility' as the cornerstone of international drug control. The agenda should reflect a 'balanced approach' that included all aspects of the drug problem and focus on those points that have been underexposed in the existing conventions. A proposal was made to install an expert committee that would undertake an 'independent evaluation' of drug control efforts, facilitating a global and open reflection on 'new strategies' for the next decade. The proposal perished at the very first 'PrepCom' meeting in Vienna in March 1997. The agenda was defined to give emphasis to the issues of demand reduction, chemical precursors, amphetamines, money laundering, and "eradication and Alternative Development". The marriage between the words eradication and AD is maintained throughout the preparations and the final documents. Two parallel tracks are set in motion that are crucial to follow in order to analyse the outcome and consequences of UNGASS for the AD field: the "Strategy for Coca and Opium Poppy Elimination" (SCOPE) and the "Action Plan on International Cooperation on Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development".

SCOPE

The first draft for a global Strategy for Coca and Opium Poppy Elimination (SCOPE) surfaced in February 1998, strongly promoted by Pino Arlacchi, who had just been appointed UNDCP Executive Director in September 1997. The objective was world-wide elimination of the illicit cultivation of the coca bush and opium poppy by the year 2008. The strategy calls for a balanced approach between law enforcement, alternative development and demand reduction, to finally rid the world of the scourge of heroin and cocaine. The bulk of SCOPE's proposed $4 billion budget, 74%, is earmarked for alternative development. Law enforcement is allocated 20% and demand reduction 2%. SCOPE focuses on eight key countries in three regions: Bolivia, Colombia and Peru in Latin America; the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar (Burma) and Vietnam in southeast Asia; and Afghanistan and Pakistan in southwest Asia. The strategy argues that, as the bulk of illicit opiates and coca derivatives originate in a "limited number of well-defined geographical areas", a last massive final offensive can eliminate the problem once and for all: "After three decades of experience, the international community is now equipped with tested methodologies and the know-how to tackle the problem in the producing areas. The strengthening of the drug control mechanisms in the regions concerned has paved the way for full-scale interventions and most producing countries have adopted well-defined national strategies and action plans that are ready for implementation. At the same time, it is possible to monitor the areas at risk in order to prevent the 'balloon effect' from nullifying the overall impact of elimination programmes". [CND 1998]

The reluctance of potential SCOPE-donor countries during the last PrepCom in March 1998 prevented SCOPE from becoming part of the official UNGASS agenda. On the part of UNDCP, the very word 'SCOPE' has not been mentioned ever since. Arlacchi consciously decided to avoid further contamination of UNGASS by the controversies that arose in reaction to the plan. But this did not mean that the vision behind SCOPE had been derailed, and the message of setting a 2008 deadline made it into the Political Declaration, in spite of many objections. The critique that it put the burden of the problem back to drug-linked crops led to the inclusion of the confirmation of the need for a "balanced approach addressing simultaneously the supply of and the demand for illicit drugs". For the demand side, 2003 became a target date for "new and enhanced drug demand reduction strategies" and there is a commitment "to achieve significant and measurable results" by the year 2008.

In the end, the Political Declaration -only approved on an additional Saturday due to serious disagreements regarding the final text- calls to "strongly support" the work of the UNDCP in the field of alternative development, and to "emphasize the need for eradication programmes and law enforcement measures to counter illicit cultivation". Moreover, the declaration "welcomes" the UNDCP's global approach to the elimination of illicit crops and "commits" member states to work closely with the UNDCP "to develop strategies with a view to eliminate or significantly reduce the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy by 2008". A softened version of the US proposed phrasing that: "States should commit to ending all illicit cultivation of opium poppy and coca bush by the year 2008, using all available means, including alternative development, eradication and law enforcement".

With the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the UN banned cultivation for purposes other than medical and scientific use. Within a period of 15 years for opium and 25 years for coca, all illicit cultivation should have stopped by 1979 and 1989 respectively. Those targets were clearly not met. By endorsing the 2008 deadline, the international community recycles unrealistic pledges to eliminate all illicit coca and opium poppy, now in less than ten years.

The Action Plan

The "Action Plan on International Cooperation on Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development", approved by UNGASS, is a typical CND consensus document, constructed on the basis of drafts from Colombia, the United States and the European Union. Throughout the Action Plan, reference is made to the need to respect human rights and cultural diversity, promote democratic values, safeguard the environment, respect national sovereignty and encourage the participation of producers in developing and implementing alternative development projects.

The Action Plan defines alternative development as "a process to prevent and eliminate the illicit cultivation of plants containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances through specifically designed rural development measures in the context of sustained national economic growth and sustainable development efforts in countries taking action against drugs, recognising the particular socio-cultural characteristics of the target communities and groups, within the framework of a comprehensive and permanent solution to the problem of illicit drugs". It is further described as "to promote lawful and sustainable socio-economic options for these communities and population groups that have resorted to illicit cultivation as their only viable means of obtaining a livelihood, contributing in an integrated way to the eradication of poverty". [UNGASS 1998b]

However, it equally stresses that AD alone is not enough, acknowledging that "the problem of the illicit cultivation of the opium poppy, the coca bush and the cannabis plant continues at alarming levels. History has shown that there is no single response to reducing and eliminating the cultivation and production of illicit drugs. Balanced approaches are likely to result in more efficient strategies and successful outcomes". Making a reference to the commitment made in the 1961 Single and 1988 Vienna Conventions, states should therefore "cooperate to improve the effectiveness of eradication efforts, including their support to alternative development". And "National drug crop reduction and elimination strategies should include comprehensive measures such as programmes in alternative development, law enforcement and eradication".

Struggling with the challenge that "even when alternative development projects are successful, some growers and processors are not likely to abandon production voluntarily simply because other opportunities already exist; they must see that there is a risk associated with staying in the illicit cultivation of drug crops", the Action Plan devotes a special section to "the need for law enforcement in controlling illicit crops". Several suggestions are made in the section to tackle the contradictions associated with finding a balance between development and repression.

Firstly, it distinguishes between law enforcement measures against trafficking structures and eradication. AD should be complemented "when necessary" by measures aimed "to tackle other illicit activities such as the operation of illicit drug laboratories, the diversion of precursors, trafficking, money?laundering and related forms of organized crime" and these "can affect the profitability of illicitly cultivated drug crops and, in so doing, make alternative sources of legal income more competitive and attractive".

Some words of caution are in order here. We have seen several cases in which this happens, but it must be kept in mind that they refer to law enforcement intervention regarding specific levels of the chain, affecting the demand-supply relationship between traffickers and growers. Law enforcement at other levels may have opposite effects. For example, increased interception of exports of the refined end-products increases the demand of raw materials by traffickers and thus has a price-stimulating effect. The main impact of the current substantial cocaine seizures, estimated to reach between 30-40% of cocaine production, is not a decrease in availability on the consumption market but an increase in illicit cultivation. Eradication logically also increases the prices of raw materials.

Secondly, the text includes specific criteria under which AD should be complemented by eradication. "When there is organised criminal involvement in illicit drug crop cultivation and drug production, the measures, such as eradication, destruction of illicit drug crops and arrests, called for in the 1961 Convention and the 1988 Convention are particularly appropriate". "In areas where viable alternative sources of income already exist, law enforcement measures are required against persistent illicit cultivation of narcotic crops".

Thirdly, it includes specific warnings about possible incompatibility. "In areas where alternative development programmes have not yet created viable alternative income opportunities, the application of forced eradication might endanger the success of alternative development programmes". Eradication efforts should "ensure that environmentally safe methods are employed"., it adds.

The Wedlock Sealed

Ever since UNGASS, the language of policy documents fills up with phrases describing AD as "one of the components within the comprehensive framework of the global drug control strategy", and "in support of comprehensive crop control strategies". Among the list of "ideal conditions" for alternative development appears the phrase "consistently applied disincentives through law enforcement and eradication". Although several agencies continue to struggle with their attempts to 'separate the instruments' within their project areas, the assumption of compatibility between AD and forced eradication is rarely questioned.

The 'specific UNDCP approach' for to the Andean region fully confirms the need for the wedlock. UNDCP warns, however, that the "relationship of trust that must exist in any development process between the stimulating agents and the beneficiaries [..] requires that, in the field, AD and prohibition are separate although the general link between them is recognised". Meanwhile it acknowledges the 'positive' contribution AD can bring to preparing the terrain for forced eradication: "AD provides a kind of positive counterweight to pure prohibition activities. Such activities not accompanied by development have, in all cases, provoked very fierce resistance from farmers and their organizations and have frequently resulted in the diversion of illicit crops to new areas. Furthermore, prohibition without AD seems to provide a very favourable medium for farmers' organisations to become more radical and for encouraging the development of subversive options and violent situations in general". [UNDCP 2000a]

USAID, which from the start of its involvement in crop substitution always worked with the 'carrot and stick' approach, recently concluded: "After a decade of work in Bolivia and in Peru, we have seen conclusively that a three-pronged strategy of eradication, interdiction, and alternative development has dramatically reduced coca cultivation in both of those countries. There is nothing as economically profitable as coca. The incentive to get out of coca on a voluntary basis is not economic. Rather, it is the threat of involuntary eradication or interdiction because drug production is illegal. There has to be a credible threat and a risk of continuing to stay in coca in order for our alternative development approach to work". [USAID 2001b]

The Plague is Coming

A promotion video clip meant to rally public support for UNGASS, might have warned us of what was to come. In the commercial, an elderly cleaning lady enters the huge empty UN conference hall in New York with her polishing cart, to get the venue spic-and-span for the important upcoming meeting. A voice in the background explains: "Here, in this room, on the 8, 9 and 10 of June, world leaders will join forces to confront the drug problem". As the lady dusts off a globe, in the swaying movement a roaring helicopter appears spraying herbicides, followed by a fast sequence of images like burning drug seizures, heavily armed soldiers and a farmer harvesting coffee. The voice ends with the slogan that UNDCP promoted for UNGASS: "A drug free world - We can do it!"

The draft SCOPE plan had stated: "Eliminating opium poppy and coca bush cultivation over a ten year period will require a combination of measures which include notably alternative development and eradication activities. As the plan progresses, the importance of eradication will grow, either to eliminate cultivation attempts in new areas or to prevent the resurgence of cultivation in areas where alternative development measures have been implemented. The further development of environmentally safe biological or chemical agents can help to complement tedious manual eradication methods". [UNDCP 1998]

SCOPE's proposal to improve the technical means for eradication appeared in the form of the UNDCP mycoherbicide programme, with the start in 1998 of a research programme in Uzbekistan intended to develop an 'environmentally safe' agent for opium poppy eradication, and a proposal in 1999 to test in Colombia the same Fusarium fungus that created havoc in Peru's Alto Huallaga. The Fusarium project triggered so much resistance that the idea was abandoned in 2000, but the Pleospora project in Central Asia is still going on. With these projects, UNDCP crossed the line by becoming directly involved in preparations for forced eradication.

The vision of SCOPE undermines development processes by failing to provide realistic time frames in which non-repressive solutions can be pursued. Tied to deadlines, and not clearly articulating the relationship between eradication and alternative development, the wedlock between the two creates a de facto situation in which repression seems to be the only solution. SCOPE as a global strategy was formally dead, but national business plans for elimination, combining, as required, alternative development, law enforcement and eradication were soon ready for implementation in Bolivia and Colombia. Within these 'balanced and comprehensive' drug control strategies, the function of AD became largely reduced to what the Action Plan had called its intention "to create a supportive environment for the implementation of that strategy".

Escalation in the Andes

President Banzer of Bolivia presented the ambitious "With Dignity!" plan, the Bolivian Strategy for the Fight Against Drug Traffic 1998-2002, adopting an even tighter schedule than the proposed 2008 deadline. With this $952 million plan, Bolivia's government "has decided the country should come out of the coca-cocaine circuit in the next five years", by 2002. The bulk of the US$ 952 million budget was to be destined for AD projects ($ 700 million or 74%), largely to be funded by the international donor community. The government claimed it was determined to ensure that the implementation of With Dignity! took place without violence and with the full co-operation of those concerned. Soon, however, coca farmers blocked the roads to protest broken agreements and renewed negotiations about voluntary eradication schemes failed. Crop substitution efforts, compensation schemes and AD in the Chapare region have been underway since 1983 and more than $180 million had been invested. It is a history filled with failure, which towards the end of the 1990s had managed to considerably expand areas of licit crops in the region, but without reducing net coca production. Arguing that 'they had their chance', Banzer decided to militarily force a breakthrough by means of large scale forced eradication of all illegal coca in the Chapare region. Subsequently some 5,000 troops of specialised military and police units moved into the region, virtually converting it into a 'war zone'. Early in 2001, after many confrontations with cocaleros, nation-wide mobilisations and several deaths, Banzer declared total victory. He proved a point by showing that with sufficient force, national reductions can be achieved, but at high costs in terms of human rights violations, social tension and livelihood destruction. The sustainability, however, is questionable and it is still too early to analyse its consequences in terms of survival strategies, migration and crop displacement. Nevertheless Bolivia has already become the pet success story in Arlacchi's list, applauded over and over again.

The other -much commented- master plan in the region, Plan Colombia, aims to achieve a reduction of 50% over six years time and was supported by the controversial $1.3 billion largely-military US aid package in 2000, feared to cause an escalation of war. Large-scale developmental assistance from other donors was intended to accompany the plan. Total budget was estimated at $7.5 billion, with the Colombian government providing $4 billion, while the rest was hoped to be provided by the international community. Compared to Bolivia and Peru, AD investments in Colombia have been small and mostly through UN channels, starting in 1985 in the Cauca and extending to Nariño, Caquetá, Guaviare and Putumayo since 1991. Until 1996, international donors devoted only about $33 million to these projects. In 1996 the Interamerican Development Bank provided a loan of $90 million, in support of AD efforts of the governmental PLANTE programme. The situation of war and the government's very repressive approach to illicit cultivation make conditions for AD extremely difficult. USAID supports since recently -as part of Plan Colombia- so-called voluntary eradication agreements in the Putumayo. Started on the initiative of local authorities and communities to prevent an escalation in their department, these schemes had to be negotiated under the threat of pending fumigations. The resulting restrictive conditions can be regarded as going two decades back in the history of AD concepts. They merely serve to justify eradication and are destined to fail. Within 12 months, farmers have to eliminate all coca in return for roughly $1000 compensation and unclear promises of infrastructure improvements in the area. To avoid spraying, however, no less than 34,000 people felt obliged to sign these agreements.

Especially throughout the donor conferences for Plan Colombia (Madrid June 2000; Bogota October 2000 and Brussels April 2001), the polarization between the re-assess and re-affirm camps resurfaced, igniting a global controversy in which European donors took distance from the US-inspired plan. The complete blurring of lines between AD and eradication and the overemphasized stick in the balance, made developmental donors highly reluctant to invest in the plan's 'soft side'. However, forced eradication went ahead as planned anyway. Massive spraying with herbicides started in December 2000 in the Putumayo. Fumigation of coca and opium poppy has been applied in Colombia since 1992, but has only resulted in the internal displacement of crops.

A Grim Picture

The current picture for AD in the Andean region looks very grim, symbolised by the physical destruction of many projects by chemical spraying in Colombia, in spite of the warning contained in the Action Plan that "the application of forced eradication might endanger the success of alternative development programmes" and its affirmation that in "cases of low-income production structures among peasants, alternative development is more sustainable and socially and economically more appropriate than forced eradication".

The UNDCP policy approach for the Andean region of "simultaneous application of prohibition policies and alternative development policies in the areas in which it is acting, but also the advisability of strictly separating the instruments, criteria and institutions relating to each one of these policies". has proven to be an illusion both in Bolivia and Colombia. In a sense, UNDCP anticipated contradictions but 'resolved' them with this dubious argument: "In situations where cultivation of the coca plant itself is considered to be illegal and there is a policy of compulsory eradication by the State, the application of conditionality is simplified enormously. In such cases, conditionality must be total and absolute; the contradictions involving the dependence of small farmers on the coca economy is resolved within the State's strategic framework, but outside specific AD projects". [UNDCP 2000a]

The escalation since UNGASS is obviously US-driven and has its political roots in the new form of McCarthyism around drugs led by conservative sectors of the Republican party that got hold of key positions in Congress at the end of the 1990s. Their project, the Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act, the prelude to the aid package for Plan Colombia, signified a serious break with the whole discourse on 'shared responsibility' and came close to being a declaration of war on traditional source countries. However, the holy marriage between eradication and AD sealed at UNGASS, its endorsement of deadline thinking, the trumpeting of Pyrrhic victories and the acquiescence to and even applause for violent eradication measures, all have contributed to legitimising it. The results are an almost complete breach of confidence with communities in illicit crop areas, a seriously compromised UNDCP and the sacrifice of most other AD goals for the sake of hopeless hectare counting.

A Harm Reduction Approach

The Baby and the Bath Water

All this has led many of my friends in the field to conclude about AD: why bother? "Everybody knows that the boat is leaking. Everybody knows the captain lied". So let's get out of it. It does not work. If they want to do development, great, but take the whole issue away from the illusion that it will help to solve the world drug problem. AD is at best 'a more humane way to not solve a problem' and moreover it helps to legitimise more repressive approaches. So, on the drug control side, let's legalise and continue with development co-operation in general.

However, strong doubts about such a position remain. The concept of legalisation is still quite ill defined and several very different scenarios have been proposed, varying from liberalisation to legal regulation. Moreover, the debate on different models has fully concentrated on the demand side. There are no studies, for example, about what a scenario like a 'fall of the wall' regarding prohibition would mean for the millions involved in the survival economies built around it over the decades. The need to develop improved strategies is high, and no option should be excluded from that search. However, it seems wiser to think in terms of a gradual transition process, where experiments with different scenarios can take place, instead of advocating the radical replacement of the prohibition regime by a vague concept of legalisation. The polarisation that this has brought has not been very helpful in the search for practical steps that can been taken from where we are now.

To sacrifice AD in this stage of the debate might have serious consequences. There are reasons to believe that there is still a baby in the bath water, and not just the best practices of several projects that have brought direct relief to communities in areas with illicit crops. AD also still plays a more political role as a counterweight to indiscriminate repressive approaches to illicit cultivation. It offers communities at least another option to use in their negotiations with authorities. Moreover, if the concept were to develop in the right direction, AD could play an important role -like GTZ has put it- as a "precursor in the drugs debate" and therefore in a transition of the current global anti-drug framework towards something better, whatever that may be. The following sections intend to propose a direction for safeguarding the 'baby', which could enhance the positive contribution of AD within the context of international drug control.

Conditio sine qua non

The questionable attribution to policy interventions of the 'success stories' and the absence of overall global impact, should relieve countries and AD donors of the pressure to comply with reduction targets and deadlines. In terms of global drug control, it really makes no difference at all to leave coca growers in the Chapare with their "k'ato" or to agree, in Southern Colombia, on the schemes proposed with the community to attempt to achieve a 50% reduction in five years. In fact, these examples are very telling and dramatic. Negotiations attempting to reach agreement with communities in the Chapare broke off over governmental refusal to take the offer seriously. This would have allowed farmers to continue growing coca on just a very minor plot per family - a k'ato equals 0.16 hectares. The proposal put forward by the community in Colombia complies perfectly with the target set by Plan Colombia on a nation-wide scale, so it is absurd to discard it as a serious option during the negotiations.

More realistic time frames allowing for gradual reduction over a period of several years and greater compatibility with local rural development plans are essential. A 'participatory approach' means more than just consulting communities about their wishes. It requires serious dialogue in which these communities are allowed to have substantial leeway for negotiation. Experiments with such gradual scenarios have been virtually impossible, symbolised by the fact that the phrasing proposed by the EU for the Action Plan about "community-based agreement to gradually reduce and finally eliminate all illicit crops", was unacceptable and the word "gradually" was negotiated out of the final text. Bernardo's example used in the opening of this paper, did operate with gradual reduction goals, but was a church supported and NGO financed effort, without government involvement.

Mutual trust should be constructed upon the basis that, if development in the target period cannot guarantee conditions for life in dignity, the continued presence of an established maximum of illicit crops per family for subsistence purposes will be allowed. This means, in fact, de-linking AD from the conditionality embedded into the 'balanced approach'. Assistance has been made far too conditional to hectare reductions and, moreover, the discourse has gained ground that 'if the carrot does not work, we'll show them the stick.' In a sense, de-linking AD from this 'comprehensive policy framework' means turning the burden of proof around. Communities would no longer have to 'prove their willingness to substitute,' but the government and the international community would have to 'prove the viability of alternatives' before they could demand from peasant and indigenous communities to place at risk the fragile foundations of their survival economy.

Harm Reduction for the Production Side

Conceptually, the proposed de-linkage of AD from the most repressive parts of drug control, can be guided by introducing harm reduction (HR) terminology into the supply-side drugs policy debate. In countries and cities where HR has become the basis for a rational policy for the consumption side, the incompatibility with repressive approaches is obvious and explicit. Forced detoxification, incarceration for individual consumption, denied access to clean needles or death penalties, are not considered in any way to be 'complementary policy instruments of a balanced and comprehensive drug control policy', of which HR programmes are 'one of the components.' There are no attempts to deal with possible contradictions by trying to 'separate the instruments within the same project area.' They are perceived as incompatible tracks, where HR explicitly takes an active stand of opposition to indiscriminate repression. HR thus has become an effective instrument not only for reducing harm, but also to challenge prohibition and 'zero option' discourse and practices.

Introducing HR philosophy to the supply-side, might encompass the following:

  • Recognition of the narrowness of the margins for policy intervention in terms of global supply reduction.
  • Acceptance that the phenomenon of drug-linked crop cultivation is here to stay as long as demand exists.
  • Shift of focus from hectare counting to a primary goal of reducing the harm associated with the existence of illicit cultivation.
  • Opening up of spaces for dialogue with involved communities -free of deadline and 'zero option' thinking- about their problems with drug-linked crops, exploring the viability of gradual reduction and other ways that might reduce the harm of monodependence or of problems related to local abuse.
  • Definition of small growers more in terms of economic victims that have become 'addicted' to illicit crops for survival. Like the HR approach to drug addicts, an attempt ahould be made to provide conditions that allow them to come out of it, but if that doesn't work they should not be sprayed, incarcerated or killed, just helped to continue in a way that reduces the harm to themselves and to society as a whole.
  • Undertaking of programmes to reduce the harm done to the environment often resulting from illicit crops and drug processing.
  • Exploration of the option to decriminalise small illicit cultivation -a measure under debate in Colombia's Congress at present- similar to the decriminalisation of individual consumption or the possession of quantities for personal use.
  • Exploration of options of direct linkages between HR on supply and demand side. Why not use, for example, raw materials from an indigenous community in Thailand or Colombia to supply the heroin maintenance programmes in Switzerland and the Netherlands, or why not supply the back-door of the 'coffee shops' in the Netherlands on the basis of agreements on regulated exports with communities in the Moroccan Rif?
  • De-demonisation of certain aspects of illicit drugs, differentiating more between specific substances on the basis of scientific studies, their possible harms and benefits, allowing for example exports of coca products to international markets.

An Open Debate

No one will be able to find a brilliant solution in this polarised stage of the debate, so polluted with dead wood and propaganda. What we need first and foremost is to create political space to conduct an open and honest debate. To retake the idea of installing an independent, international evaluation commission might be a crucial step in this direction. Furthermore, we need to seriously address the issue of a reform of UNDCP, away from its recent attempts to rival with the US over the leadership of the re-affirm camp. Changes in leadership, management style and internal culture are necessary to enable the agency to play a stimulating guiding role in this debate, and to prepare the world for open and honest reflection at the 5-year evaluation of UNGASS scheduled for 2003. Beyond further conceptual improvements through expert debates about alternative development, these are, in my view, necessary steps to prevent that this Sacred Heart is blown apart by the roaring helicopters on the horizon.


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