Eradication campaigns – a new example of their ineffectiveness

The findings of the UNODC reports about Afghan opium cultivation demonstrate the importance of the alternative development campaigns and the failure of crop eradication efforts.


The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recently published two reports about opium cultivation in Afghanistan. Here are their key figures and predictions:

Opium eradication measures led by the international community and the Afghan government increased by 154% in 2012. Despite these eradication efforts, the area of poppy cultivation increased in 2012 and is likely to go on rising in 2013 in most regions of Afghanistan, expanding even in areas of the country where its cultivation had previously stopped.


Why this seeming paradox? Surely because the eradication “solution” is addressing none of the main issues around opium cultivation.


An economic and social disaster from farmers’ point of view

In the UNODC survey, the predominant reason given by farmers for growing opium is its high sales price. Opium doesn’t rot like most other crops–so it represents safe income - and opium traders make advance payments to farmers and supply them with fertilizer and seeds. Moreover, there is a strong market and demand for this product, unlike cotton that British and American advisers encouraged to grow and that remained unsold because of its low prices.


The UN survey shows that most of the farmers that do not receive governmental agricultural help will soon give up in the face of such economic inducements. A UNODC survey reported the same situation about Myanmar opium cultivation in 2012.


Eradication programs of eradication that did not provide concrete and viable alternative crops to farmers led systematically to disastrous results in Afghanistan but also in Peru and Colombia:  they further impoverished subsistence farmers by removing their only source of income, and led to disastrous environmental damage, while worsening the trafficking situation.



A counter effective measure for the protection of the rule of law and security

The UNODC report highlights that in Afghanistan, villages in insecure areas have a higher probability of cultivating poppy than villages in areas with good security.


As in Afghanistan, illicit drug cultivation in Colombia and Myanmar is linked to paramilitary or separatist groups and most of the coca/opium growing activity is concentrated in remote underdeveloped areas under the control of those armed groups that are leading the traffic. In those cases, eradication programs, despite appearances, led to worse results.


For example, local district councillors in Afghanistan protested against those eradication programs stressing that, without alternative development programmes and opening up access to local markets and good prices for other crops, it would impoverish farmers further and make them more vulnerable to opium traders and Taliban groups, fuelling violence and insecurity in those under developed areas.



A non-answer on development issues

Development issues such as strengthening local infrastructure and routes to link villages to markets, education and healthcare systems have a significant influence on whether or not people will start engaging in drug cultivation.


The UN survey highlighted the link between poppy cultivation and education in Afghanistan: the poppy-growing villages have very few schools compared to the non-poppy-growing ones.


In Myanmar, poppy eradication removed from villagers a source of livelihood but also a traditional medicine to cure health problems such as diarrhoea. That medication is essential in the remote villages that are located very far from the nearest hospital. And this is the case in Afghanistan as well. Opium is being used for medicinal purposes by many people who do not have access to other medication or pain relief.




Obviously, eradication campaigns are addressing none of those issues. In fact, "eradication continues to be a failure” as UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa admitted about Afghanistan.

What the UN reports have proved is simply that alternative development measures, when designed properly and adequately sequenced, are the best solution to tackle the issues underlying the illicit drug cultivation.


The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC - a global network of NGOs promoting evidence-based and humane drug policies) is supporting the implementation of those alternative development programs. It stresses the characteristics that they should have in order to be effective and beneficial for the farmers and the poor communities that are growing illicit drugs:

-          Such actions are very different to the repressive measures of crop eradication and of compulsory crop substitution and go far beyond them. They need to be long term economic and social development strategies that effectively improve the economic situation of vulnerable communities, but also education and health systems, security and governance.

-          Those strategies need time to bear fruit. Creating viable economic livelihoods is a necessary prerequisite to be done before a curb is seen in drug production. Moreover, alternative development measures should not be conditional to crop eradication, and success of the programmes should not be based on the level of hectares eradicated, but instead on human and socio-economic development indicators

-          Those measures need to be elaborated and carried out with the help and in close cooperation with affected communities.


The Thai long term approach to encourage poor communities in the northern mountains to stop poppy cultivation was exemplary in this matter. The official programs implemented long term economic and social measures including backing farmers in their growing high value crops such as coffee, training villagers, improving local infrastructures and market access. Thailand is the only country in the world so far to have stopped drug cultivation on its territory, which had led to increases in poppy cultivation in other areas of the world due to the balloon effect.



It seems that without those real alternative development actions, supply reduction programs in Afghanistan are deemed to fail.




Links to the two reports mentioned in the article:

Afghanistan - Opium Risk Assessment 2013, published in April 2013

Afghanistan - Opium Survey 2012, published in May 2013