By Ross Eventon, GDPO Research Associate

Today the causes of illicit drug cultivation are, at least on paper, almost universally recognised to have socio-economic causes: the recourse to illegal activity is considered to be a response to poverty, marginalisation and a lack of economic opportunities. It is by now a platitude to argue that what is needed in response is ‘development.’ And the initiatives which claim to address this problem are known as Alternative Development (AD) programmes.

The history of AD, and the variety of criticisms to which it has been subjected, have been discussed in an important paper by Julia Buxton. Summarising, Buxton writes that AD is ‘framed by a concept of ‘development’ that is unclear, contested and securitised.'

It is true that the term ‘development,’ as it is employed in the literature, is often nebulous. It is common to read of the need for ‘sustainable development’ or ‘integral rural development’ to complement AD and reduce cultivation levels. But the precise meaning is not clear. Consider, for example, the following statement taken from an influential report by the Organisation of American States:

‘Alternative development as a strategy for social integration should build human and social capital by implementing production projects that incorporate criteria for economic, environmental, political, and social sustainability. In short, alternative development in the area of drug production makes sense if it is part of a broader development plan. It is in the framework of such a plan that initiatives on the ground, in actual communities, families, and small organizations, will find the resources and partnerships they need to place their products in a market from which they can receive fair compensation.'