In July 2013, the Transnational Institute (TNI) in cooperation with Paung Ku (a consortium aimed at strengthening civil society in Myanmar) held the first Southeast Asia forum of growers of crops declared illicit in Yangon, Myanmar. As a senior policy officer for the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), based in Bangkok and working primarily on drug issues in Asia, I took part to find out more about the situation faced by opium growers in the region. In the movement in support of drug policies more grounded in health and human rights, a lot of attention has been (justifiably) paid to establishing harm reduction approaches for people who use drugs.
In November 2011 I was invited by the Thai government to take part in an international delegation to develop a set of UN International Guiding Principles on Alternative Development. Our work began with a five-day journey along the Thai-Burma border to see first-hand the development programs that have been successful in virtually eliminating poppy production in that country. Over 100 government officials and experts from 28 countries visited the Thai “Royal Project,” which has research stations and development projects in five Northern provinces of the country.
The International Guiding Principles on Alternative Development approved last week at an international meeting in Lima, Peru, represents a lost opportunity to promote equitable economic development in some of the world’s poorest regions. The final document on the Guiding Principles bears little resemblance to the document that was originally drafted in November 2011 in Thailand by a group of more than 100 governmental and non-governmental experts.
Fifty years after signing the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and 40 years after the U.S. government declared a "war on drugs," many obstacles remain despite the partial successes of efforts to counter the problem. The Andean-United States Dialogue Forum, noted with concern how drug policy has monopolized the diplomatic and economic agenda between the Andean countries, contributing to tensions among the governments and impeding cooperation on other crucial priorities, such as safeguarding democratic processes from criminal networks.
Alternative Development programmes, aimed at encouraging peasants to switch from growing illicit drugs-related crops, play an important role in UN drug control strategies. The record of success, however, is a questionable one. Decades of efforts to reduce global drug supply using a combination of developmental and repressive means, managed to shift production from one country to another, but have failed in terms of global impact.
At the International Conference on Alternative Development (ICAD), held in Lima from 14 to 16 November, the Peruvian Government supported by the UNODC claimed that currently in Peru the surface planted with alternative development crops is superior to the amount of coca, used for the production of cocaine. Allegedly, the 80 thousand hectares with cocoa and coffee have successfully replaced an illicit economy, or prevented it to establish itself.
Decades of efforts to reduce global drug supply using a combination of developmental and repressive means, managed to shift production from one country to another, but have failed in terms of global impact.
Peter Reuter (RAND), Franz Trautmann (Trimbos Institute) (eds.)
15 March 2009
This report commissioned by the European Commission, found no evidence that the global drug problem has been reduced during the period from 1998 to 2007 – the primary target of the 1998 UNGASS, which aimed to significantly reduce the global illicit drugs problem by 2008 through international cooperation and measures in the field of drug supply and drug demand reduction. Broadly speaking the situation has improved a little in some of the richer countries, while for others it worsened, and for some of those it worsened sharply and substantially', among which are a few large developing or transitional countries. Given the limitations of the data, a fair judgment is that the problem became somewhat more severe.
The last of the four ‘round tables’ of the high-level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was devoted to the broad issue of Countering illicit drug traffic and supply, and alternative development. TNI had been nominated by the Vienna NGO Committee to give a statement on the issue of Alternative Development (AD), being one of the few member NGOs with a track record on this issue and having actively participated in the Beyond 2008 initiative, including the negotiations at the July NGO forum to reach consensus on the text of a paragraph on AD in the final declaration. This is our impression of the event.
The Transnational Institute (TNI) and the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) co-hosted the First Southeast Asian Informal Drug Policy Dialogue, 12-14 February 2009 in Bangkok. The dialogue – similar to TNI efforts in Europe and Latin America – brought together government officials, experts, NGOs and representatives of international agencies, to discuss dilemmas and possible improvements in drug policy making in the region. Participants in the Bangkok meeting were from Burma, Thailand, Laos, Yunnan (China) and Northeast India.
The objective of this seminar is to compare the findings on innovative tools for the prevention of problematic cocaine use patterns, with experiences with harm reduction measures for stimulants in other regions of world.
On 11 and 12 September 2015 opium farmers and representatives of opium farming communities from Kayah State, Shan State, Kachin State and Chin State, came together in Upper Myanmar to discuss the drug policies affecting their lives. Following from the discussions the farmers issued a statement with recommendations to policy makers nationally and internationally.
In the area of failed alternative development (AD) projects, the Andean region has its sorry share to contribute. The constant peasant uprisings n the Bolivian Chapare and the social tensions rife among cocalero peasants in the South of Colombia are woeful indicators of such failure. In January, TNI attended a conference in Germany, hosted by the German government and UNDCP. The purpose was to critically evaluate experiences in AD and draw conclusions for its future.
In 1961, the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs prohibited planting crops having no medical or scientific purpose, fixing a period of 15 years - for opium - and 25 years - for coca - as deadlines for their ultimate extinction. Those targets were clearly not met. In 1998, ignoring decades of lack of success in addressing the issue of illicit crops, the UN set the year 2008 as yet another deadline by which to eliminate coca and opium. At the UN Special Session on drugs, AD was identified as a key instrument to be used in fulfilling this objective, as part of an integral anti-drugs strategy. The strategy's other components were eradication and law enforcement. Experience has demonstrated that the simultaneous use of these means - commonly known as the 'carrot and stick approach'- is counterproductive.
This issue of Drugs & Conflict is dedicated to this central theme in international drug control policies. Supply reduction, one of AD's objectives, has proven a failure in the Andean region. To what was this failure due? What may be expected of AD programmes in the future, given the accumulated experiences?
In reference to eradication pacts and AD projects undertaken in the Putumayo (Colombia), Ricardo Vargas points out that there is no fair compensation between what is expected of peasants: destroying the main source of their livelihood, and what the state offers them in exchange: non-viable projects doomed to fail and the impending threat of fumigation should deadlines not be met. International anti-drugs policy forces the Colombian government to measure its results by the number of hectares eradicated, without regard for the region's specific development conditions.
State institutions in Colombia have no capacity to operate effectively in the Putumayo. Locked into a crisis combining US pressure to intensify aerial spraying, a collapsed peace process and guerrilla action against the economic and services infrastructure, the central government is not in a position to guarantee the adequate running of AD programmes. To add fuel to fire, there is now the argument that finance for terrorism must be combated. This further erodes the social and economic rights of the peasants and down-plays the impact of aerial spraying on health and the environment.
In spite of widespread recognition of the failure of current 'carrot and stick' policies (a mixture of AD and repression), a 'zero option' mentality persists and deceit about success still abounds. The final declaration issued at the German policy conference is not radical in this sense. It does, however, offer some leaps forward in terms of fine tuning the AD concept, based on a better understanding of livelihood decision making processes, the importance of regular evaluations and, the acceptance of the reality that the communities most affected have not been allowed to participate sufficiently in their own development process. The declaration also manages to define somewhat more precisely the troublesome balance between AD and repressive law enforcement. It is worth noting that the UNDCP participated actively in the conference, displaying real willingness to seriously exchange opinions on these issues. This yields a modicum of optimism regarding the possibility that international bodies can learn to identify best practices and see the need to separate these from the current repressive policies, increasingly recognised as more harmful than drugs themselves.
Between 26 and 28 May 2018, representatives of opium farming communities in several states in Myanmar came together in Lashio, Shan State, to share experiences, concerns, and initiatives on the issue of illicit cultivation, especially in relation with supply-side policies which have affected their lives and livelihoods. A final statement was concluded at the end of the forum.