Alternative development from the perspective of Colombian farmers

15 May 2011
Policy briefing

Alternative Development programmes have been widely discussed from the point of view of experts, technocrats, politicians and academics, with advocates and detractors debating whether such programmes contribute to decreasing the cultivation of illegal crops. However, little is known about the opinions of the people targeted by these programmes and the implications that they have for their daily lives.

This analysis hopes to play a role in correcting this imbalance by analysing alternative development programmes carried out in Colombia during the government of Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) from the perspective of Colombian farmers. This document is based on the data obtained in public meetings and round tables with the leaders of producer organizations, and from my experience of working with farmers and civil servants during three years of work as a consultant at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Bogota. The intention of this paper is to offer a global vision of the programmes; it does not attempt to examine the various local and regional dynamics that resulted from the implementation of the programmes during that period, nor to focus on the whole complex subject of Alternative Development as a public policy.

Between 2003-2010, two alternative development programmes were implemented: the Forest Warden Families Programme and the Productive Projects Programme, as part of the Presidential Programme Against Illicit Crops (PACIC). The goals of these programmes were to consolidate the eradication of illicit crops, offer alternative stable income to communities, generate state legitimacy and strengthen social capital through the participation of society.

Conclusions & Recommendations

  • The farmers need to have permanent access to the state institutions that would allow them to fully develop their rights as citizens in areas of rural and environmental development, road infrastructure, education, and health. The state must be consistent in its implementation of rural development programmes that cover the whole country, and must stop giving paternalistic handouts.
  • There must be an end to the imposition of projects drawn up in the offices of those in power and by the international aid community, that do not take into account local knowledge and needs. The call for effective and real participation by farming communities must be taken into account in the drawing up of rural development projects.
  • Work with the communities must be based on their skills and traditions, and must be supported by their social networks. In this way the communities will be empowered and will be able to carry out projects that have a positive impact.