USAID's Alternative Development policy in Colombia

A critical analysis
01 October 2011

Alternative Development (AD) must not be part of a militarised security strategy, which is the predominant approach in Colombia. Instead of simply attempting to reduce the area planted with illicit crops, Alternative Development programmes should operate within the framework of a rural and regional development plan.

 

The Alternative Development policy of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Colombia was developed in 2000 within the context of Plan Colombia. Of the US$869 million originally allocated for the counternarcotics program, US$123.5 million went to USAID in Colombia, and US$42.5 million of the USAID funds were earmarked for alternative development programs in the country.

The purpose was to create legal income and employment opportunities for small farmers through small projects. The funding was conditioned on the eradication of farmers' illicit crops and their commitment not to plant such crops again in the future.

The programme has gone through several phases. In the first (2001-2004), a crop-substitution model was used to create alternative employment opportunities based on private-sector investment. This model established a prior condition of “zero coca” in the areas of intervention. Putumayo was the pilot area for the program, which was accompanied by a military offensive in the southern part of the country. But while military action and eradication advanced in the area, the same was not true of Alternative Development.

In the second phase (2005-2008), USAID decided to change its approach, moving from a focus on crop substitution to working with communities to create a culture of legal economic practices. This was the basis for the programs, ‘More Investment for Alternative Development’ (‘Más Inversión para el Desarrollo Alternativo,’ MIDAS), aimed at strengthening the productive sector, and ‘Municipal Alternative Development Areas’ (‘Áreas de Desarrollo Alternativo Municipal,’ ADAM), which focused on institution building and good governance. But USAID maintained the prior condition of ‘zero coca’ for the areas in which it intervened.

In addition, USAID’s concept of community as a social construct - involving processes of individualisation and incorporation of private enterprise - did not reflect the structure and customs of traditional smallholder communities in the intervention areas. The third and current phase (2009-2013) is a reformulation of the policy of phase two.

KEY POINTS

  • Alternative development must not be part of a militarised security strategy, which is the predominant approach in Colombia. Instead of simply attempting to reduce the area planted with illicit crops, Alternative Development programmes should operate within the framework of a rural and regional development plan.
  • Alternative Development programmes must foster social processes in which the community participates and is empowered throughout the entire project cycle, from formulation to evaluation.
  • Before intervening in conflict zones, such as drug crop-growing areas or transit corridors, international cooperation agencies should carry out detailed assessments of factors such as: changes in land tenure structures as a result of the armed conflict; existence of emerging powers related to drug trafficking, paramilitaries or other armed actors; situation of legitimate community organisations (Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities).
  • International cooperation agencies should analyse in depth the role of Alternative Development, examining the process of territorial control by organised criminal groups.
  • The role of Alternative Development must be redefined, examining the process of territorial control by organised criminal groups and carrying out an analysis of the counterinsurgency approach and the way it links ‘development and security.’

October 2011
TNI Drug Policy Briefing Nr. 38

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