UNGASS Special Segment Day 4 – Interactive Discussion Alternative development; regional, interregional and international cooperation on development-oriented, balanced drug control policy; addressing socioeconomic issues

UNODC Introduction. The UNGASS provides a unique opportunity to assess what work and what doesn’t when addressing the drug problem, including in the area of alternative development. Member states clearly view alternative development as a vital pillar of any strategy.

One major challenge is that starting in 2009, official development assistance for alternative development has decreased, meaning communities are deprived. This had led some to question the effectiveness of alternative development.

But, wherever alternative development is provided consistently, many communities have progressed and we’ve seen a reduction of poverty and food insecurity, and a reduction of illicit crops.

We need to secure access to national and international markets, help with land tenure, and ensure that governments have political will on this issue.

There must be a minimum set of conditions available for alternative development to succeed. Conditions such as conflict, crop eradication immediately before a program, poor access to markets all hinder success.

Government presence, food security and rule of law are all necessary. Effective alternative development is also based on international cooperation, including more south-south cooperation. We also need input from the private sector to help sustain success. Alternative development is also more successful when incorporated into mainstream development strategies by governments.

The most fundamental lesson learned is that farmers previously dependent on illicit crops will forgo these if provided with a legal, viable alternative.

African Group (Nigeria). Our discussions will no doubt contribute to other views and sharing of ideas.

Cannabis is an illicit cultivated crop, and there are many individuals held in the bondage of this dependence. The issue of cannabis use and addiction has become a serious health problem in Nigeria. There are strong feelings among psychiatrists in the country that cannabis is contributing psychosis. Abstinence is needed to combat this.

We have through our drug control strategies, which include awareness campaign and eradication, have destroyed several hectares of cannabis plantation and seized tons of the drug. We embrace alternative development. Crop substitution is considered important in our approach.

Continued sharing of ideas and lessons learned will enhance the response to the global drug phenomenon. You’ll agree with me that alternative development is a vital component of drug strategies. Alternative development will tackle poverty and provide sustainable security for farmers.

Giving priority to the elimination of illicit crops is not an appropriate approach by itself; therefore, we support alternative development. We must strengthen the capacity of states to implement alternative development to prevent people becoming involved in the illicit drug trade.

We need to reiterate the recommendations of the alternative development meeting held in German 2013. We also need to discuss alternative development programs as a way to combat the availability of illicit narcotics.

In conclusion, we call on the UNODC for the replication of the alternative development approach taken toward opium poppies and coca with regards to cannabis crops.

Mr Dispanadda Diskul (Asia Pacific Group). Thailand has struggled with the problem of illicit drug problem. In the 1960s we were the world’s leading opium producer. Since the late 60s, the King implemented alternative development/crop substitutions for opium growers over a period of 30 years.

Undertaken as part of Thailand’s integrated rural development strategy, Thailand worked its way to being removed from the UNODC list of significant opium producer in 2001. We’ve learned experiences and can share these with countries such as Indonesia, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

In 2013, the UN general assembly endorsed the principles of alternative development. It remains important to take the UN GP issues further.

In Thailand’s view, alternative development must be seen as part of a larger development context including poverty and other issues. Therefore, alternative development programs should have a long term view. In our experience, it takes 6 years to begin to see returns on alternative development programs.

Issues such as infrastructure — roads, hospitals, access to markets etc. — must be address alongside crop substitution. From the experience described, we’ve seen the impact of alternative development is enhanced if integrated into broader development programs.

It’s important for the international community and financial institutions to support alternative development.

The issue of balloon effect is a common problem faced. Thailand believes this problem comes from giving too much weight to indicators such as eradication figures. Prioritising these comes at the neglect of other areas concerning alternative development. The sustainability of our programs relied on empowering people previously reliant on the illicit crops.

The success of programs in Peru [coca] is due to a multifaceted approach that is people-centric and empowers people similarly.

It’s important to conduct baseline surveys to determine strengths and weaknesses of programs. There is no one size fits all solution, or quick fix development programs. It takes time. It’s time to empower communities. We must look at the socio-geographic context of the areas alternative development programs are implemented.

Not all alternative programs should be farm-based, but look at the broader socio-economic and geographical context. They must look at the broader development issue.

I would like to highlight the importance of the UNGASS – it’s a key time to enhance alternative development. We appreciate the initiative taken by Germany in pushing this issue, and appreciate the UNODC for working on alternative development.

Thailand plans to host a conference on alternative development this year in November, so countries can share experiences in this area. We count on your support as you have shown in the previous conferences.

GRULAC (Peru). Peru is one of the most affected countries by the world drug problem. We’re aware that poverty and vulnerability are factors leading to cultivation of illicit drugs. Based on this, our president has implemented a counter-drugs policy that incorporates alternative model.

The San Martin model focused on moving people from illicit to licit economies.

Three pillars of our drug strategy:

  1. Prevention and treating drug use.
  2. Prohibition.
  3. Alternative development.

Peru supports efforts made to eradicate illicit crops. Alternative development in Peru aims to integrate communities in the affected regions into the legal economy. Not only do we provide technical assistance and training to producers, but also by providing support in terms of access to roads, schools, healthcare and the formalisation of property. All of this with the aim of preventing a return to coca cultivation.

The alternative development approach in Peru incorporates civil society, authorities and communities. We focus on human development, economic development, good governance, and ensuring the sustainable management and use of natural resources.

The most emblematic case in Peru has been the San Martin program which saw an enormous drop in coca cultivation in the area it focused on between 1996 and 2011. Similar drops have been seen in the Monzon Valley between 2007 and 2013.

The downwards trend of illicit cultivation in areas where alternative development is implemented allows us to see the success these programs can have. There has been an uptick in the area of licit crops cultivated in these areas, and an increase in students trained in environmental risks.

We’re still well aware that there are many urgent matters to attend, such as greater formalisation of agricultural property. This will promote greater access to credit and in turn greater productivity. In 2013, 8,000 property titles were granted. We hope this to rise to 22,000 in 2015.

Mr Chairman, Peru is promoting a model of alternative development that we place at the disposal of the international community. Only by linking human development, safety and security will we be able to properly combat the world drug problem.


Mr Daniel Brombacher (WEOG). Germany began engaging over 30 years ago in alternative development with Thailand. These successful programs still guide us on this issue.

Since our early engagement, our approach has always been to establish a close link between work in the field and formulation of policies internationally to ensure policies respond to the needs of communities. We would like to see UNGASS as a chance to make an assessment of the success and failures of current alternative development approaches. Success of UNGASS will be determined by the impact it has on well-being of people.

Not all actions included in the 2009 declaration have been considered for implementation by all governments. It’s much broader than what has been implemented on the ground.

The debate about alternative development has not always kept pace with realities on the ground and UNGASS can address this. Any expert in alternative development would agree that land poverty contributes to illicit crop cultivation, and helping improve access to land as well as markets addresses this issue. Weak government presence is a concern as well. However, these crucial points have been refused or neglected in certain UN forums. Therefore, our international approaches are outdated. We want to change this situation and use the UNGASS to bridge the gap between the field and international forums. We welcome the upcoming World Drug Report as a stepping stone on this issue.

We believe that allowing governments to implement the policies they want without cooperation is a risky strategy on alternative development. There are a growing number of governments that have adopted their own alternative development strategies. Usually, what we perceive is that those countries when they draft those policies have a close look at the context they are working in.

As we heard on Monday, the funding situation for alternative development is currently poor. It is often outstripped by investment in other development issues. At the same time, we have a lot of political endorsement for alternative development. Therefore, we believe UNGASS should be used as a forum to promote the success stories of alternative development. If we recognise the link between alternative development and food security, poverty, environmental issues etc. we could improve funding for this issue.

It will be necessary to open the UNGASS alternative development debate, and make it accessible to the broader development community. It will require inviting affected communities and people to the debate, also, including small-scale farmers to share their ideas and expectations.

The global partnership on alternative development seeks to push this issue forward in the lead up to the UNGASS.

Fay Watson (EURAD). 

Because civil society views are broad, my statement is not to be taken as representative of the whole.

For EURAD, we agree that alternative development can help confront supply of narcotics by supporting the rural poor. We believe the international community all have a role and responsibility in this issue in order to reduce the global supply. Cooperation is needed and a more holistic approach taken so that cultivation simply does not shift.

However, alternative development programs vary in terms of their success. Local communities may sometimes need to be strengthened in the face of corruption, and more done to shore up the work of governments.

In terms of sustainable rural development, we believe intelligence led and voluntary eradication should be incorporated. In terms of criminal justice, eradication should not be a pre-requisite for alternative development. Aerial eradication should be carried out only in the most extreme circumstances.

We support the rights of rural farmers to integrate into the licit economy and reintegrate into society. It was disappointing to hear investment in alternative development has reduced. Programs should be bottom-up and not top-down.

There should be documentation on the aims of programs and the investments and stakeholders in them.

We hope governments take the UNGASS as an opportunity to move toward a more holistic approach.

China. The statement made by Thailand was especially impressive and demonstrates effectiveness of alternative development. The government has taken alternative development on board and works to provide interest free loans, healthcare and infrastructure to address illicit crop cultivation in the country. The area under cultivation for poppies is still large in southeast Asia and alternative development initiatives remain weak in this area. We need to give importance to research into how to make these approaches successful. We hope that designing alternative development programs, governments take into account social, economic and environmental factors. We must give consideration of the actual causes of illicit crop cultivation to address the underlying issues. These vary between countries. Alternative development requires sustained investment in order to prove successful. Otherwise, there is a risk of farmers returning to illicit crops. We hope all parties do more to learn from each other and coordinate approaches. We need to promote pragmatic approaches.

Colombia. We have developed a collaboration for international cooperation in the private sector, based on voluntary participation, trade unions and involvement of farmers to transform vulnerable territories that used to produce illicit crops. 8.2 million dollars have been invested in alternative development, bringing families in the licit economy, reinstating the presence of the state. Although we have achieved considerable progress, Colombia faces challenges that have been addressed by state stakeholders. Facilitating access of communities in affected territories to economic benefits, credits and incentives created by the government. In 48.7% of these territories we have established special zones for the government to focus on. The government’s public policy has made it possible to focus on reconstruction, rehabilitation based on an integrated approach.

Sweden. Sweden has a big development budget, but alternative development is very difficult. We must promote success stories in 2016. My question to UNODC is – how can we make alternative development part of the development agenda? We need to highlight the question of the development agenda at UNGASS. We heard from Thailand that UNDP was engaged, but have you had any discussions with the regional Bank, Asian Development Bank, etc. to be more active in this field? Compared to other development budgets, the Bank resources are so much bigger and it would be interesting to see if they could take a more active part in alternative development – we cannot rely solely on UNODC.

Ecuador. Ecuador has worked with neighbours such as Peru and Colombia, but we have also learned a lot from Thailand. We don’t have a lot of production in our territory, but we do preventative alternative development. Alternative development has taken hold around the world with south-south cooperation. In urban areas, we foster urban preventative alternative development with populations which have been taken hostage by trafficking organisations, involving vulnerable individuals and communities and supporting them as they are the frontline victims of drug trafficking. We use health, education, cultural lifestyles.

Indonesia. Indonesia is committed to the Lima declaration on alternative development within the broader drug control policies around law enforcement, crop eradication, demand reduction, with consideration for social and economic considerations.

Sudan. I would like to recall what was said yesterday on social development, including on AD. When we talk about AD, we talk about strategies at national and local level. Cannabis is the most prominent illicit crop in our country. The people who control some of these territories are not the actual producers, they exploit the producers for their own profit. The actual farmers get a tiny pot of the benefits derived from their work. We have carried out polls, surveys in these regions, and they have demonstrated that the small farmers that are exploited by those who control the crops could very well move to alternative licit crops given the encouragements from the government. The overall strategy in this country is to involve the Ministry of Social Affairs, of Education, of Professional Training, etc. to become involved, each focusing on their own area of competence and expertise. Some areas have also lived through conflicts and are still victims of violence. Sometimes it is hard to access these territories for the government. We have achieved, in other areas, some very good results. In Sudan, most drugs are produced in Darfur, very remote. But we have been able to develop some AD projects with good results. We are willing to share experiences with others.

Japan. We developed our AD technical assistance based on health, education and socio-economic development. We also promote the importance of international cooperation. We agree with the point agreed upon by Germany towards the UNGASS in 2016. We also highlight the role of UNODC in providing technical assistance on AD. We offered assistance in Myanmar and Afghanistan. But we also need a longer-time and broader development strategy.

Morocco. Peru and Thailand’s presentations were important. We have some illicit cannabis crops and we have developed a strategy to combat illicit crops. We combat marginalisation. We have launched the national development initiative to provide funding for all the projects related to AD (more than USD 100 million). The cultivated area covered by cannabis was reduced by 65%.

Washington Office on Latin America. In terms of what is happening on the round in Latin America in particular, AD’s primary objective is eradication. These are short term and fail in the medium and long term. Hence the need to provide rural development, and if this is well done, crops will be reduced. 4 principles:

  • proper sequencing is crucial – viable sustainable livelihoods must be in place before crop eradication is conducted. Then governments can work with local communities to reduce crops. This has been successfully done.
  • Eradication will not work unless alternative livelihoods are indeed in place. Forced eradication fuels violence, conflict, etc. People are forced to displace and replant to other areas. Many development organisations have steered clear of forced crop eradication. Adopting viable alternatives will be useful for sustainable AD
  • The small-scale cultivation of illicit crops should be decriminalised. Criminalisation allienates people who are involved and hinders success. Meaningful participation of local farmers in crop reduction and AD is essential and a fundamental pillar of policy (e.g. Bolivia’s success).
  • Alternative livelihoods goals and strategies should be included in development plans.

Ultimately,we are talking about providing equitable rural economic development to the poorest regions in the world. And we should bring this forward to the UNGASS.

Transnational Institute. We appreciate the opportunity to share our points of view on the issue of Alternative Development with the Commission.  From our work with crop cultivators in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia for the last two decades, we have been able to gather profound insights as to what Alternative Development has meant thus far to the peasants and their families. We sincerely hope this will change in the near future, and the few positive examples of success can be repeated in other regions and communities.

For most farmers unfortunately AD constitutes a hollow phrase of empty promises and disappointing results, if any, understood to lure them into so-called voluntarily eradication of their crops, leaving them and their families without any income and dire poverty and debts.  Good intentions alone have proved insufficient to address the complex issues of agricultural developmental challenges, instable international market prices, access to land and the ongoing social conflicts in rural communities around the world.

First and foremost the issue needs to be addressed in conjunction with supply reduction policies. It should not need much explanation to understand the tremendous negative impact of forced eradication, by military style operations and aerial spraying, on rural communities. It is the worst possible start of building relationship between these communities and the state, and had proven to be one of the root causes of the failure of developmental projects, in all regions. Conditioning AD participation to previous eradication should therefore without any doubt be abandoned as a policy, since it has proved to be counterproductive. As long as the amount of hectares eradicated remains the main indicator for drug policy success, sustainable development loses.

Secondly, sustainable rural development is a challenge in itself, and the prohibition of cultivating coca, cannabis or opium poppy has caused these crops to get a status of such high revenue, that there is no serious alternative to compete in an economic sense.

Moreover, the traditional uses of these plants have come under threat as a result of these policies, causing the violation of indigenous and human rights of the affected populations.

Finally, peasants’ families around the world are being criminalized, prosecuted and locked up as a result of current policies.  Their crime is to want to live of the land and feed their families with revenues of a crop that sells. This should never be the intention of global drug control.

The voice of the primary stakeholders will be represented in the preparations for UNGASS through the organisation of a Global Forum of Producers of Prohibited Plants. Their participation in the design and implementation of development policies are fundamental, and they will contribute to the CSTF efforts to ensure this is effectively the case.

IOGT International. I come from a development NGO. I would like to commend the German government for its programmes. This is an example that should be followed. We want to also focus on other development issues – that of harm reduction and health services in the global south. The South African government mentioned the penury in health and prevention programmes. We reiterate that treatment and harm reduction are important as part of an integrated strategy. These services are almost entirely lacking. But we must also be sensitive to what can actually be done within healthcare systems, especially when those are overloaded by diseases such as malaria and others. We cannot let increasing drug use become another burden on the healthcare system. Prevention is very important. Drug use prevalence should be a key indicator of success or failure at the UNGASS. While treatment and harm reduction services require more training, prevention can be done with people who are already there. In our work in Africa and Asia, we meet a lot of concerned people about this issue. We need to make people take their future in their own hands, and this can be done through prevention.

League of Arab States. Four ministerial councils are specialised and tasked by the League of Arab States. These have launched prevention/treatment, punishment, and enhancing AD programmes. All of these programmes would not be effective unless cooperation and coordination is enhanced among all stakeholders at national, regional and international levels. We must give a voice to sub-regional, regional and international concerns. We must exchange best practices, provide specialised training, advice and technical assistance. We can also add in this context that the war on drugs focuses in many instances on the security aspects and the security measures necessary, instead of the need to focus on socio-economic remedies. The major challenge is providing treatment and reintegrating them in society. We hope that the UNGASS will include a special session for international, regional and subregional organisations so that they have a chance to coordinate and share on AD and programmes for sustainable development in a manner that will be beneficial for member states.

UK. Regardless of AD, families continue to be victims of organised crime and live in poverty. I want to highlight the West Africa Strategic Assistance Framework adopted in November 2014. We have broadened the range and functions, capacities necessary to tackling organised crime, and have emphasized the comprehensive approach.

Aldo Lale. UNODC. I appreciate the comments made by member states and CSOs. As UNODC I wish to address specifically the question from Sweden. Do we at UNODC address the link AD/sustainable development – the answer is yes, we never miss an opportunity to address the issue here in Vienna and wherever we have field offices. We link sustainable livelihoods and drug control. Sustainable livelihoods is also important for other crimes (piracy, crime, trafficking). Another question linked to Germany’s presentation – a few years ago we were few to discuss the issue. Things have now changed, bringing other agencies into the discussion: work with the Asian Development Bank, in Colombia with the American Bank, in Myanmar we use the World Food Programme. We also work very efficiently with the European Union. We have been able to mainstream the issue over the past 20 years.

Nigerian panellist. Governments must address the socio-economic factors that led producers to engage in the illicit cultivation, with an integrated approach.

Thai panellist. The Swedish representative asked me a rather historical question We have worked with the UN, many member states, and we are now in a position where we can provide support to other countries. Today, people still view the issue of AD as separate from sustainable development. We need a new view at the UNGASS. We are talking about a human centric approach, sustainable development programmes, provide people with basic infrastructures. We see Peru, Ecuador and many other countries heading toward this approach. We need to push the debate forward, including the issue of land rights. Let development come first, crop reduction will come later – and this is what we need to focus on in the coming years.

Peruvian panellist. The integrated approach is key and is the basis for the Peruvian strategy. With regards to the UNGASS, development should be the central theme. We have a good basis and platform. The Lima Declaration, in particular the part on AD, is particularly relevant. The issue of cooperation is indispensable. We have cooperation with a number of countries and we are working with countries on this issue. We would like to work together with others, including with African partners. We can share a lot. We also need to increase the role of other partners, including civil society and the communities, this is indispensable. Nothing will be achieved otherwise. In Peru, we never criminalised those who cultivate the plants. We need a social component for these strategies as well. Here we have representatives of at least 2 plants that are being used for AD: coffee and cacao.

Fay Watson, EURAD. There should be a social approach to demand and supply, and this should be taken into account during the UNGASS process.

German panellist. we must discuss how we can better connect AD to the broader development agenda. We need to work with other UN agencies, and governments focusing on AD and development in general. We have also heard several times about land tenure, and this is absolutely key to the debate and it may be something we can work on with our fellow development agencies. Another issue we worked on and we should keep into account in the UNGASS, is how we can get a situation where we can involve development agencies and development banks.

India. AD has been an integral part of our strategy in the past decade. In the last political declaration, we focused already on AD. The political declaration focuses on the need for AD, crop eradication and law enforcement. Recognising crop eradication by itself was unsuccessful, we need proper sequencing along with AD. Since then, considerable progress has been achieved on AD. We then adopted another declaration on AD as the cornerstone of approaches on AD. AD needs to be a long-term approach:

  • commitment by member states to bring development in areas of production.
  • address the drivers of illicit cultivation – poverty, insecurity, etc. = need for development oriented policies. But if it is greed, then there should be law enforcement.
  • we should agree on evaluation criteria for success,based on the driver we seek to address: human development indices, as well as reduction in areas of illicit crops.

Morocco. I want to reiterate what has been said by my colleague. AD is very important for Morocco. It involves work that is multidimensional and long-term. We must take into account the cultural specificities of the group concerned. We should not just change crops, we must diversify production, with respect for the environment. Agricultural workers must participate in the development of plants and their commercialisation. Successful access to markets is a condition of success. We must develop equitable markets, social inclusion of farmers. It’s important to involve all stakeholders, including CSOs.

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