Side event: The nexus between illicit drug cultivation and deforestation and land degradation

Side event organised by the UNODC Studies and Threat Analysis Section and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit.

Chair: Several SDGs are about environmental sustainability, so this issue is very important. SDG 15, in particular, is most relevant to today’s discussion. The cultivation and production of narcotic drugs touches on the issue of environmental sustainability. GIZ and UNODC recruited an expert, Liliana, to conduct some research into this matter. So today we will share some of her findings.

Daniel Brombacher, GIZ: I am involved with the Global Partnership on Drug Policies and Development (GPDPD). We have begun cooperation with Colombia, whose experience suggests there is a link between illicit drug crop cultivation and environmental degradation. We also believe that this cultivation is contributing to climate change. We believe that the nexus under discussion today has not been analysed enough.

Liliana Davalos, Stony Brook University: We wanted to know where illicit crops were actually located. We analysed the data. So we examined where coca was being cultivated in Colombia. We found that it was happening more in forest areas. Areas with coca leaf have lower rates of deforestation, apart from Bolivia. These places are underdeveloped – that’s why they have coca. It’s not the other way around. What our research shows is that coca is not driving the main thrust of deforestation in Colombia. In Southeast Asia, we modelled the probability of deforestation. We found that the presence of opium poppies did not contribute to higher rates of deforestation. Data from Honduras has monitored trafficking activities and correlated them with the forest loss observed in the country. It found that the more cocaine movements, the more deforestation. Narco cattle-ranching is in part responsible for this, as well as things like the construction of landing strips for traffickers’ planes. In Colombia, two regions demonstrate that as you fumigate more, you have more deforestation.

Bo Mathiasen, UNODC representative in Colombia: Colombia has actually now stopped its fumigation programme. It ceased last year. We have been looking at a part of the Colombian Amazon. It’s about 20 million hectares – a huge area. There has been a loss of about 5 million hectares of forest between 1990 and 2010. There’s an incredible level of biodiversity in this region. In 2014, there was around 31,000 hectares of land cultivated for coca. The area cultivated in indigenous reservations and national parks has increased significantly. Colombia has probably the largest alternative development programme in place. There are around 10,000 beneficiaries, helped through 33 alternative development organisations. Only about 10% of the coca crops went back to regenerate some kind of secondary vegetation – scrub land. We want to analyses the relationship between illicit cultivation and deforestation, the relationship between alternative development programmes and deforestation, to arrive at recommendations for alternative development programmes, and to engage affected communities.

Dispanadda Diskul: We believe that poverty and other vulnerabilities are the main driver of deforestation. A lack of access to productive land is one of the main reasons for deforestation. We know that there wasn’t enough food supply in many opium producing areas of Thailand – there were only low-yield crops. Cultivation shifts around. A large area is needed for cultivation of enough rice for the average family. Illicit drug crops are the only source of income for many communities that are at high altitudes – they have no other option. We try and address the livelihoods of these people. Water, soil, seed and yield are the main challenges for these people. They need water not just for consumption, but also for agriculture. There can be huge improvements in land quality, and that’s what our project has achieved. Access to formal or informal land tenure is key – when people have their land recognised, they take better care of it. People need a better livelihood first – and then we can reclaim the land.

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