Although growing illicit crops often helps small rural farmers cope with food shortages and the unpredictability of agricultural markets, economic dependence on illicit crops is not sustainable in the long term.

Forming an enclave in the national economy and excluded from mainstream development, the illicit cultivation of coca bush and opium poppy leaves farmers in the hands of unscrupulous middlemen. In some countries, farmers have become mere employees of large commercial farms owned by drug traffickers. Moreover, farmers are continuously confronted with the threat of forced eradication of their illicit crops by the Government, which exacerbates their precarious socio-economic condition.

Although levels of opium poppy and coca bush cultivation have been contained in the last decade, much remains to be done. While the global area under poppy cultivation rose by 15% in 2012, driven largely by increases in Afghanistan and Myanmar, global opium production fell by almost 30%, to less than 5,000 tons in 2012, mainly as a result of poor yields in Afghanistan ( World Drug Report 2013). In the Andean region where coca bush is cultivated, the global area under coca cultivation amounted to 155,600 hectares in 2011, almost unchanged from a year earlier. The application of alternative development projects in these key regions will contribute to maintaining successful results in the fight against illicit crop cultivation [ Latest UNODC data on illicit crops].

   
   
     
   
     
 

Since 2003, Afghanistan has been the main opium poppy grower in the world and accounted for the bulk of cultivation, around 74% of global illicit opium production in 2012. With a global total of over 236,000 hectares under cultivation in Afghanistan, illicit cultivation of opium poppy reached peaks level in 2012, surpassing the 10-year high recorded in 2007. This was mainly the result of increases in Afghanistan and Myanmar (the two main producers). A preliminary assessment of opium poppy cultivation trends in 2013 revealed that such cultivation is likely to increase in the main opium growing regions, which will be the third consecutive increase since 2010. Mexico remains the largest grower of opium poppy in the Americas ( World Drug Report 2013).

     
   

Opium poppy cultivation in Afganistan, Myanmar and Lao PDR, 1998-2013 (Hectares)

     
   
     
 

Global illicit cultivation of coca bush in 2011 remained at around the same level as in 2010. Most of the world's coca bush is cultivated in the Andean countries of the Plurinational of State of Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. After several years of increases since 2005, the Plurinational State of Bolivia saw a decrease in coca bush cultivation of 12% in 2011. Colombia and Peru, on the other hand, experienced small increases in the area under coca bush cultivation.