By the Global Partnership on Drug Policies and Development (GPDPD)

Numerous studies examine how the Covid-19 pandemic affects illicit drug markets. We asked ourselves: how does the Covid-19 crisis affect the lives of families who grow the raw materials to produce heroin or cocaine, or who are in the process of escaping the poverty trap of illicit cultivation?  The GPDPD commissioned a study on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The study paints an initial picture of the situation in drug cultivation areas in eight selected countries in Asia, Latin America and the Balkans - and what we can learn from this for the development of a sustainable drug policy.

It became clear that the situation is very different - but has one thing in common: Pre-existing problems have worsened since the pandemic began in early 2020. The Covid-19 crisis provides the ideal breeding ground for the spread of illicit economies. Smallholder farmers in areas of drug crop cultivation are now more at risk than ever of slipping deeper into illegality. Yet there are also those who manage to resist this on their own.

Poverty and a lack of alternatives in structurally weak rural areas, where the state is hardly present, are driving people into illegal cultivation. Their lives are already characterised by insecurity and marginalisation: they have no access to a functioning infrastructure, markets, political participation, basic services or educational institutions. Violence and conflict are often part of everyday life. The economic downturn only makes them more dependent on drug crop cultivation.