Side event: Opportunities and challenges in the role of development in drug control policies

This event was organised by Germany with the support of Peru, and the UNODC Sustainable Livelihoods Unit. Because it was run under Chatham House groups, no speakers will be quoted by name.

In a series of expert meetings organised by Germany, Peru, Thailand and the UNODC, we have been discussing a series of key questions around alternative development: How is COVID19 is impacting the cultivation of illegal crops? Can we use cannabis as an alternative to other illegal crops?  Is it possible to transition AD to urban settings. The discussions can be found in this Conference Room Paper. Some of the main findings:

  • There has been an increase of political commitment for AD. There has been an increased effort in the collection on data on these issues, but some challenges remain at both local and global state. More capacity-building is needed.
  • The importance of long-term intervention was highlighted. Many participants hoped that project
  • The pandemic has increased inequality, and has affected vulnerable communities disproportionatley. There is concern that a shortage of funding for AD might follow from budget reprioritsation. due to COVID19.
  • How can we move AD interventions from rural to urban environments? There was a common agreement that the reasons for getting involved in a drug markets are the same in rural and in urban settings. It was clear that at least some of the lessons learnt by AD could also be relevant in non-traditional and urban settings, through a holistic, integrated, and balanced approach.
  • The application of AD in the field of illegal cannabis cultivation was another issue that led to heated discussions. It was agreed that data gathering on cannabis cultivation needs to be strengthemed. There need to be signifcant financial contributions and political commitment by member states.
  • The discussion on the impact of illegal crop cultivation on the environment focused on crops being grown in reserves and natural parks. Other issues mentioned were unsustainable cultivation practices, etc. Responses to illegal drugs also need to be environmentally-minded.

Drop in funding for Alternative Development

The illegal cultivation of crops continues at record levels, and organised criminal groups ensure that their business remains untouched by the crisis. At the same time, we observe a drop in funding for AD, with pledged contributions 170m Euros down from 2017. This is troubling.

The root causes that drive small scale farmers to illegal crops will be exacerbated by the current COVID19 pandemic. Supported by Germany, UNODC recently published a ground-breaking study that shows that around 700,000 households around the world are involved in the cultivation of illegal crops like poppy or coca bush. We are talking about millions of farmers who are the weakest link in the supply chain, and who got involved in the drug market in order to survive.

The new EU Drugs Strategy 2021-2025 was adopted under the German Presidency of the EU Council. We are delighted that it incldues a strong commitment to enhance development in drug control. We need to work closer together with civil society, academic, and member states. We need to adhere to rules-based multilateralism. Germany has been supporting the Brandenburg Forum to facilitate the connection between development and human rights, together with colleagues from Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the Transnational Institute, and the International Drug Policy Consortium.

Alternative Development in Peru

The effects of COVID19 on the world drug situation has been specially devastating. Traffickers are using new ways to transport drugs, while drug use patterns are reinforced.

There is an increasing trend of illicit crop cultivation taking place in natural protected areas, and drug responses need to take this into account. In Peru, illegal crops cause forestal degradation, contamination of the environment with chemicals, and other harms to the environment.  Alternative Development is an essential element in the anti-drugs strategy of Peru. We are convinced that improving the social opportunities and conditions and vulnerable groups is essential to fight drugs. We need to increase their income in order to reduce their dependence on illegal drug markets. In the last years, AD programmes in Peru have managed to increase the income of families involved in coca growth from over 3,000 to over 4,000 USD per year. There has also been an increase in the cultivation of legal crops.

The Conference Room Paper presented this year by Peru, Germany and Thailand is of great consequence. It is good to see that Member States are committed to supporting Alternative Development with the yearly resolution at CND.

Alternative Development within the global drugs strategy

AD is an integral component of the global drug strategy, but it about much more than just reducing illegal crops. It is crucial to the achievement of SDGs.

Due to the pandemic, communities have been affected by health crises, travel restrictions, and service closures. There is considerable risk that inequality will increase even further after the pandemic. It is indispensable that more resources are made available to AD. AD needs to make sure that communities engage with global markets, in part through the involvement of private sector stakeholders. Even more importantly, AD needs to make sure that farmers themselves own as much part of the supply chain as possible. That is why UNODC supports cooperatives. Successful examples of these are taking in place in Lao, Myanmar, and Bolivia. Cooperatives are not charity operations, but make good business sense.

AD also promotes land tenure, female empowerment, entrepreneurship, and small business. During these challenging times we must redouble our efforts. We need to continue to listen to the affected communities, and to ensure that their support for AD takes place. AD needs to be responsive, and dynamic.

Alternative development in urban areas

In some regions of Thailand we have seen a shift form illegal crop cultivation into the production of synthetic crops. We need to think about how we can use lessons learnt on crop cultivation in that new field. In the last 3 years we have carried out a programme that targets more urban communities, where we have seen the importance of setting up the programme in a way that is aligned with law enforcement. At the same time, we need to separate ‘good people’ from ‘not-so-good people’, to ensure that we engage with people we are engaged with drugs out of poverty.

Another important issue is that if we get involved with communities that produce synthetic drugs, the increase of income must be very quick. In opposition to crop cultivators, people involved with synthetic drugs already acquire a significant income, so a better alternative must be very clear to them. We have done this through the involvement of the private sector.

It is important to work at the same time on the demand and the supply parts of the strategy. We cannot put an end to the illegal markets if we don’t at the same time reduce the demand for illegal drugs. We have programmes that target drug users, providing them health services and improved livelihoods. We have a very low relapse rate – under 20%.

A lot of people have already touched on the issue of COVID19. It has widened inequalities, and it could cause a huge setback on the progress we have made in terms of alternative development.

If we focus on punishment for people who grow drugs we will definitely leave them behind in the path to achieving the SDGs. In light of the pandemic, the creation of market access is more important than ever.

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