A Global Empirical Review of Drug Crop Eradication and United Nations' Crop Substitution and Alternative Development Strategies
Farrell, Graham, Journal of Drug Issues
Under international law, the cultivation of opium poppy, coca bush, and cannabis plant is allowed only for limited medical and scientific purposes. All other cultivation of these plants is marked for removal via eradication or other means, and strategies to implement these laws are reviewed Globally, the annual risk of eradication is consistently below 10% for each crop. Evidence regarding socioeconomic development policies is taken from over two decades of United Nations programs in 11 countries. Using any measure of performance, they have had little impact. Even with marginal revisions in their methodology, the likelihood of these policies achieving their aims in the near future seems minimal.
This paper reviews efforts across the globe to reduce illicit crop cultivation. This includes crop eradication and a range of socioeconomic development-related work. The drug crops in question are coca bush, opium poppy, and cannabis plant. With respect to crop substitution and development work, evidence relates mainly to 2 decades of United Nations programs and projects in 11 countries.
The available empirical evidence suggests that, at the global level, there seems to have rarely been more than 10% of any one type of illicit crop eradicated in a given year, and the risks to farmers of imprisonment are minimal. Hence farmers' risks are generally low and they can quickly resume cultivation. A range of obstacles obstruct the implementation of eradication, including popular opinion and public demonstrations, corruption, and sabotage. Where eradication is implemented, farmers adopt a range of adaptive responses to minimize the impact, and the empirical evidence supports these arguments. The most notable adaptive response is relocation and the new planting of crops. It seems that current eradication strategies hold little prospect of making substantial inroads into illicit cultivation.
What began as crop substitution in the 1970s became integrated rural development in the 1980s, and emerged in the 1990s as alternative development. The changes in terminology reflect refinements in methodology of the approach according to proponents, and mark the failure of one and then the next policy according to critics. However, despite efforts to tailor and improve the theoretical underpinnings of the approaches, the empirical evidence regarding their effectiveness is quite damning. More than 2 decades of United Nations (UN) projects and programs show little empirical evidence of reductions in illicit cultivation: projects stumble during implementation, in the instances where development is introduced it does not necessarily lead to reductions in illicit cultivation. Where there are reductions in illicit cultivation this is normally within a defined project area, but farmers have had ample time, often several years, to relocate. The recent addition of national and regional drug control plans seems largely rhetorical, adding little of substance to the policies. However, because development work is less punitive than eradication and far more politically acceptable within producer countries, it seems likely to continue.
There is a fundamental point to note at the outset of the paper: economic development is widely accepted as a laudable national and intenational policy aim, irrespective of drug policy goals. This paper does not question the justification or viability of promoting either economic growth at the national level, economic growth in smaller areas, or rural development in general. However, if rural development is the aim, rather than reducing illicit cultivation, then the resources used in drug control development projects could almost certainly have been better used elsewhere. This is noted to counter the excuse sometimes given that at least the money is being spent in a positive manner. On the contrary, often it is not being productive even if it fails in its drug-control objectives. For a range of reasons described herein, development work within drug-crop-cultivating areas is less efficient than development work elsewhere. …