Development First: A More Humane and Promising Approach to Reducing Cultivation of Crops for Illicit Markets

22 December 2009

Unless alternative livelihoods are already firmly in place, eradication of coca and opium poppy crops is counter-productive, according to a new WOLA study. Despite years of aggressive crop eradication efforts, overall coca and poppy production has remained robust, and cocaine and heroin prices have fallen sharply since the early 1980s. According to U.S. government estimates, the area under coca cultivation each year in the Andean region has hovered near 200,000 hectares for nearly two decades.

The new WOLA report, Development First, identifies ten lessons learned for promoting alternative livelihoods, based on decades of evidence in countries from Thailand and Burma to Afghanistan and the Andes. Among the lessons is that proper sequencing is crucial: development must come first. Also, development assistance should not be made contingent on the prior elimination of coca or poppy crops. As has been the case in Colombia, such policies deny aid to precisely those communities most dependent on growing crops for illicit markets and in greatest need of assistance. The fully-produced report and Spanish-language version will be released shortly.