Regional Programme for Afghanistan and Neighbouring Countries

Building New Synergies to Address Drug Control and Promote Economic Development

16-17 November 2017, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 

Joining forces to promote new and innovative partnerships and to integrate drug control and development efforts, UNODC, in partnership with the Ministry of Counter Narcotics of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, hosted a two day conference on "Promoting Afghanistan's Alternative Development Initiatives among Regional and International partners" in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

The conference was run back to back with the seventh Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA VII), the premier conference on promoting infrastructure development, connectivity, job creation, and trade and business development in the countries of West, South and Central Asia. The conference sought to increase awareness and opportunities for Alternative Development among countries of the region and to explore possibilities for new strategies and partnerships between agencies working on both drug control and development in support of Afghanistan.

UNODC has been working for over 40 years with Member States on alternative development, which remains a principal pillar within the international drug control strategy. In Afghanistan most illegal cultivation is driven by poverty, food insecurity, lack of land tenure or conducted by farmers who live in insecure areas. Against this background, alternative development seeks to reduce illicit crop cultivation and drug production by generating licit income generating opportunities while at the same time providing a range of social services. Equally important are efforts to introduce governance structures and security so as to provide a conducive environment for social and economic development.

Speaking at the conference, Mr. Roland Kobia, Special Representative of the European Union to Afghanistan, emphasized that alternative development is a long-term strategy, based on a comprehensive approach to rural development, which seeks to put in foundations for a sustained move away from illicit drug cultivation. He noted that access to markets was crucial to allow farmers to generate sufficient revenue to maintain a decent standard of living. He also stressed that development, security, stability and peace go hand in hand and that we had to work together to defeat criminal elements promoting the drug trade.

Her Excellency, Professor Salamat Azimi, Minister for Counter Narcotics of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan stressed in her speech that Afghanistan was truly committed to fighting narcotics and that it was developing national policies to support all relevant Ministries to work together to achieve this goal. She spoke on the importance of alternative development and the need to promote legal economic development and investment in Afghanistan and highlighted the importance of learning from the successful experiences of other countries and building partnerships to develop successful programmes in the state.

Speaking at the RECCA conference, Mr. Jeremy Milsom, UNODC Senior Programme Coordinator of the Regional Programme for Afghanistan and Neighbouring Countries said that "Security and development are indivisible, an understanding reaffirmed through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the UN General Assembly Session on the world problem. In Afghanistan the opium poppy cultivation and drug production chain generate huge profits which in turn support criminality and insurgency and ultimately results in greater insecurity.  There is no way to achieve a viable and sustainable social and economic development unless we tackle the drugs issue and insecurity."

The event, funded by the European Union, with additional funding support by Japan, the Russian Federation and USA (INL) was attended by over 70 senior officials and participants from Afghanistan including the Minister of Counter Narcotics and the Governors of the Helmand and Nangarhar provinces of Afghanistan. Senior officials from Pakistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Colombia and Thailand, and the donor countries also attended along with representatives from the UNODC Office in Afghanistan, Vienna and academics. The event was crucial to the planning and execution of current alternative development interventions and gave an opportunity to put forth new strategies and activities given the high 2017 illicit crop production figures.