What is alternative development?


Alternative development means giving farmers an economically viable, legal alternative to growing coca bush, opium poppy or cannabis plant. It is an integrated, long-term approach, involving all stakeholders and aims to address the causes and consequences of poverty in a broad sense.

As defined during the 20 th special session of the UNGASS, alternative development is 'a process to prevent and eliminate the illicit cultivation of plants containing narcotics and psychotropic substances through specifically designed rural development measures in the context of sustained national growth and sustainable development efforts in countries taking action against drugs, recognizing the particular socio-economic characteristics of the target communities and groups, within the framework of a comprehensive and permanent solution to the problem of illicit drugs.' (1998).


What are the alternatives to illicit crop cultivation?



There are different legal alternatives to growing coca bush, opium poppy or cannabis plant. For instance, UNODC supported the establishment of hectares of palm trees, coffee, cacao or tea plantations. Alternative development can also take the form of forest development, conservation of soil, rivers and watersheds as well as institutional strengthening.


How are alternative crops chosen?


Alternative Development should be guided by a community-based, participatory approach. Local communities need to be involved in the decision making process regarding the design, implementation and monitoring of activities. The values, traditions and customs of local communities and civil society should always be reflected.

Choices are also defined by market demand and regional development needs, such as tourism, agriculture and the food industry. Alternative products (e.g. cocoa, coffee, rubber, apiculture and sugar cane) are destined for proven commercial markets both internally and for export.

Environmental sustainability is another key aspect for successful alternative development interventions.


How is alternative development making a difference?


Alternative development is an integrated approach which aims to improve community livelihood options and addresses the key factors that drive illicit crop cultivation. It continues to be the principal method utilized by Members States and UNODC to address illicit drug crop cultivation within a framework of poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Alternative development programmes provide communities with a legal and sustainable economy but also assist local governments in initiating infrastructure projects. For instance, co-financing of project costs with local governments is a way of making municipalities associates and not beneficiaries.

Encouraging the direct involvement and participation of farmer organizations, cooperatives and community-level committees has helped ensure that UNODC programme interventions and outcomes embody the aspirations of the local community and receive its active support and acceptance, particularly with respect to drug control objectives


What support does UNODC provide to help farmers changing crop cultivation?


UNODC's support focuses on food security, enhancing licit income earning opportunities, enabling access to water, health services, markets, and credit as well as south-south cooperation. UNODC provides different kinds of support, depending on the areas. For example, legal support can be provided to families that need to legalize their land titles. Farmers are also helped to obtain credits, preventing migration. Support has been provided to introduce water harvesting techniques in order to decrease soil erosion, resulting in improving the quality of life of beneficiary families. Projects also ensure that farmer's enterprises are involved in agro industrial productive chains.


What is produced through alternative development programmes?


The processing and commercialization of the products in cooperation with the private sector is an important part of the strategy, as it generates added-value and thus income for the farmers. Alternative development products comprise a variety of different products, inter alia, coffee, chocolate, tea, beans, palm hearts, honey, coconuts, dairy products and gourmet sauces.

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Where does UNODC have alternative development programme?


UNODC implements alternative development projects in six countries:

Afghanistan, Bolivia, Colombia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Peru.

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Who benefits from alternative development?


UNODC alternative development projects are designed to benefit small rural farmers who are involved in or at risk of becoming engaged in the cultivation of illicit crops. In most cases, affected populations live below the poverty level and typically 50 per cent of their income comes from drug crop cultivation. UNODC-supported alternative development also empowers communities while ensuring that both men and women benefit equally from development interventions.


What are the challenges when designing and implementing alternative development programmes?


Many challenges exist when it comes to alternative development : lack of food security, lack of alternative sources of income, lack of credit, lack of technology, lack of access to markets, lack of access to land, lack of development assistance, environmental sustainability etc.

One should also never forget that alternative development is a long-term process, requiring a long-term commitment from all actors involved. For example, the process required 30 years to be successful in Thailand.

The cultivation of opium poppy and coca often takes place in areas plagued by conflict, insecurity and vulnerability. Poverty needs to be adequately addressed, otherwise gains made in reducing illicit cultivation in key countries over the past decade may be unsustainable. Food security, provision of basic human needs and income generation should be strengthened to support farmers courageous enough to switch to licit crops. UNODC, together with the affected countries and the international community, must strengthen and increase efforts to design appropriate and sound policies and programmes to ensure sustainable alternative livelihoods for small farmers and their communities. The challenges ahead in the fight against illicit crop cultivation involve a political framework, synergy across private enterprises with organizations and public sectors, strengthening social capital, and environmental issues to protect ecosystem and sustainability.