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Writer's Profile
Claire Edwin

Specialised Subjects

Crisis Management, Cultural Studies, European Law, Geography, History, International Relations, International Studies, Media, Oriental Studies, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Social Policy, Sociology, Urban Studies

I have experience in both academic and corporate settings, with extensive experience political risks, analysis of emerging markets, business intelligence, strategy alignment and economic development in Africa. I have a Bachelor’s degree and am currently reading for my Master’s degree in International Political Economy at King’s College, London.  I have carried out research for major publishing companies and have been able to successfully relate the theoretical to the practical as is necessary in the world at present. My aim is to present this research in a thought-provoking manner, challenging the status-quo.

Evaluate the role of Alternative Development as a policy to combat illegal drug production

‘We totally reject drug trafficking. But drug trafficking exists because of the demand for drugs. We agree to help fight drug trafficking, but help us to find markets for alternative products.’

Farmer Leader, Yungas, Bolivia

UNODC Alternative Development: A Global Thematic Evaluation (2005)

    Several policies have been adopted to combat illegal drug production. It has been shown that the policy of alternative development (AD) has had no impact and is therefore no different from other policies. AD as a policy takes a holistic approach. Its goal is to create the necessary infrastructure for farmers to grow alternative crops and transport them to the necessary markets. The policy attempts to promote a sustainable, long-term alternative to illegal drug crop production. Current literature on AD shows that is it yet to be fully effective. For instance, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report (2005) on AD has stated that although AD, being one of several policies and forces at play, has had an impact in reducing the spread of illegal crop production, its precise contribution is rarely known (UNODC 2005: 5). Mansfield (2009) expands on this and states that results at local level cannot be directly attributed to AD interventions.  This is cause for concern, as it shows there has been a limitation in gathering data to measure the effectiveness of AD. How can the effectiveness of the policy be evaluated if the data available is not directly attributable to the source?

    The literature giving statistics pertaining to the effectiveness of drug policies should be read with caution (Kensey et al., 2012; Gomis, 2014). In light of this, the data citied in this paper are for the purposes of estimation and representation of AD and should not be taken as fact. The statistics provided are based on an illicit and primarily covert trade, making the data purely indicative. Phan-Gruber (2010) argues that AD policies alone are insufficient to combat the production of illegal crops. However, if the policy were to be combined with a method of eradication, results could prove to be more fruitful (Phan-Gruber 2010:5). This paper argues that overall, AD has been ineffective in combatting illegal drug production. To support this arguement, this paper will show why AD has been ineffective by focusing on the balloon effect. This will be followed by an analysis of the short-term micro impact AD has had, and finally, it will analyse the inherent weaknesses of the policy.

    If acreage is reduced in one area, a possible consequence is that production simply moves elsewhere. This is referred to as the balloon effect (The Economist 2003). The balloon effect can occur when a successful drug policy in one state results in the reduction in drug production. As a result, illegal drug production moves to another state. However, overall drug production does actually decrease. For instance, decreasing production levels of the coca crop in Bolivia lead to an increase of production in neighbouring Peru. It was surmised that the AD policy could have long term effects; however it seems that it will actually have a short-term, unsustainable impact. Recent findings have shown that the policy is having a positive short-term effect on a micro scale, as can be demonstrated by the AD projects as part of Plan Colombia (USGAO 2008). Although this may seem to give traction to the argument that the policy has been effective, it would be short-sighted to take this view. Just because the policy has worked on a micro level does not make it successful. First, the problem has simply been transported to another geographical location. One of the difficulties is that there has been an overall lack of coordination of the policy at regional level to prevent drug-production simply being transported elsewhere. If the policy was effective it would lead to the elimination of the illegal drug production. It is apparent that the policy is simply helping to win battles against illegal drug production, but not the war.

    Coca production decreased considerably in Bolivia and Peru in the late 1990s as a result of AD, but production levels and cultivation in Colombia increased proportionally.  At its peak in 2000, Colombia accounted for roughly 90 per cent of the world’s cocaine. Since then the figure has shrunk by a third, but there has been a concomitant increase in production in Peru (Smith 2013). A recent White House report concluded that in the production of cocaine, Colombia has now fallen behind both Peru and Bolivia (The Economist 2013). Estimated figures show that cocaine production in Colombia fell by 25 per cent during 2012, with a decline of 70 per cent since 2001 (The White House 2012). However it is important to acknowledge that the battle to decrease drug production in Colombia was multi-faceted. AD was not the only method used in an attempt to curb production, and therefore success in Colombia cannot be attributed solely to this method. This then, to an extent limits our understanding of how Colombia benefitted from AD. If the available data is unable to directly identify the benefits of AD programmes, this must be construed as a weakness of the policy and it effectiveness must surely be open to debate.

  AD programmes do not attempt to limit the capacity of drug dealers; as a policy it is unable to keep up with their rapid expansion. Rother (2003) and Lupu (2004) argue that in the Andean region, the level of coca-leaf cultivation has remained constant in spite of AD policies. The balloon effect shows that on a macro scale, AD does not work.  For instance in spite of the success of AD programmes in Peru in the 1990s, figures show that illegal drug production is increasing in Peru. Figure 1 below shows the average range of total cocaine production in the Andean region.

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Figure 1.          Source: UNODC World Drug Report (2012) cited in Hidalgo (2012)

   It is evident from Figure 1 that Peru was the main cocaine-producing state in the 1990s, and then Colombia took over. AD programmes were initiated in Peru in the early 1990s (Veilette 2005: 10). From the graph it can be surmised that AD programmes have worked, but recent evidence would suggest that this is not the case. The lack of regional coordination between the three Andean states − Peru, Colombia and Bolivia − has meant that at present, each state is pursuing its own agenda about how to eliminate illegal drug production. If there was some form of regional consensus about how AD programmes were to be implemented and these programmes were combined with other forms of eradication recognised by the USA, the AD may be an effective policy in the region. However, it could be argued that such success of AD programmes in the Andes could result in the balloon effect with the illegal drug production being transported to Africa or Asia. Regional consensus between the three major coca producers in the world would certainly be the start of greater cohesion and uniformity and result in shared intelligence of how to combat illegal drug production in the area.

     A further limitation of the AD policy is that it can cross cultural barriers. Findings show that AD programmes have eliminated the availability of the coco leaf for personal consumption (Vargas 2005:133). The coca leaf in Bolivia is of historical and cultural significance. Recent reports show that the Bolivian people have been lobbying extensively to be allowed to consume and chew coca leaves as it is part of their cultural heritage (Mahn 2012; Fox Latino 2014; Downward 2013). AD programmes have been implemented in Bolivia for over thirty years (Phan-Gruber, 2010:6). These unexpected extra complexities can prove to be obstacles to progress. The lack of assessment of these factors before AD programmes were enacted shows an intrinsic flaw in the policy itself as it demonstrates that the cultural aspects were not considered. The question that needs to be asked is why the Bolivian authorities agreed to eliminate coca production when the people planting such crops do not view the crop as illegal. In protest, the Bolivian minorities may retaliate: farmers may plant more coca plants in response to being made to plant alternative crops. This would obviously be counterproductive. Ojeda (2011:8) maintains that ‘alternative development is superficially putting a plaster over the wound of a deeply rooted problem’.

    The policy is failing as a result of not considering the inherent problem and gaining an understanding of why farmers plant the coca plant to begin with. The issue stems back to low socio-economic opportunities. Seiferth (2011) has identified markets that AD programmes have attempted to create, showing that there is not the demand for the alternative crops. It makes no sense to produce alternative crops in an attempt to get farmers to produce alternative goods. For instance, farmers are being encouraged to produce coca tea, but the coca tea only has legal status in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador (Matthew, 2010, Reis et al., 2009). Further sources, such as Hagen (2001), show how spending on AD is being diverted towards predominantly crop substitution. Critics such as the European Parliament have called for the American-funded initiative to spend more money on infrastructure and social programmes to reinforce the alternative crops that are being produced.  However, its use is being actively discouraged by the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This is counter-productive and shows the lack of consensus with regard to the logistics of the policy.

   The funding constraints of AD programmes contribute to the ineffectiveness of the policy. The fact that AD programmes are put in place as a last resort means that funding capacity is severely reduced. For example, US$54.3 million was allocated to counter narcotics projects, of which US$34.3 million was awarded to law-enforcement projects. A mere US$20.1 million was directed to AD programmes (Embassy of the United States, Lima 2012).  This means that because funding is being directed to eradication methods and interdiction, less development assistance can go to the farmers. This means that the programme can assist far fewer farmers than could be possible with more funding. Whittington (2013) argues that US state officials have reported US AD assistance supported over 19,000 Peruvian families in cultivating 37,000 hectares of legal alternative crops such as cocoa and coffee. The fact that AD programmes are only considered after eradication and interdiction programmes means that the policy is not impacting as many people as it could, reducing the chances of curbing illegal drug production. President Humala of Peru has stated that, substantively and qualitatively, the fight against the scourge of drug production is in line with US anti-drug policy (White House, 2013; Whittington, 2013): that the preferred methods of US drug policy are narcotics control and law enforcement over AD.  Over the years, AD policy has been delivered as ‘standard packages of activates to a presumed standard set of beneficiaries’ (Nougier, 2010: 5). The programme is not tailored to its beneficiaries. As the programme targets multiple locations, a universal approach should not be adopted as this minimises the efforts to eliminate illegal drug production.

In conclusion, alternative development has failed to eliminate illegal drug production in the Andes region (The remit of this paper was to focus solely on the Andes region and not on other geographical areas). This paper has identified three main reasons for why the policy has not been able to eliminate illegal drug production. First, the balloon effect is detrimental to the process of curbing illegal drug production. It would be wrong to conclude that AD has been effective based on the few successful programmes. Transporting the problem elsewhere does not mean that it has been resolved, as the example of increased production in Peru testifies. Secondly, the inherent flaws of the policy are constraints in themselves: it is viewed as a last resort and funding to AD programmes is minimal compared to other, preferred, methods. Thirdly, and perhaps the greatest flaw, is that there is no coordination in the Andes region. Effective coordination could be valuable in eliminating the onset of the balloon effect as well as implementing measures to eliminate the inherent flaws of the policy.

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