VIENNA, 13 March (UNODC) - The head of the United Nations drugs agency called on rich countries on Monday to do more to end the dependence of farmers in drug-producing regions on illicit drugs such as opium and coca.
Opening the 49th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said providing alternative sources of income for such farmers was critical to global efforts to curb drug supplies.
"Governments and farmers which have taken major steps to reduce illicit crops have done their part. Now it is up to the international community - particularly the drug consuming-countries as well as aid and funding partners - to help," Mr Costa said.
"Of course, this requires significant investment. I must say quite frankly that alternative development is not working to the fullest extent, in large part because the international community is not living up to its side of the bargain. At most 10 per cent of those who need assistance receive the required support."
Alternative development is the main theme at this week's meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the central policy-making body within the United Nations system dealing with illicit drugs. It is also the governing body for the work of UNODC in the drugs field.
The UNODC Executive Director said most illicit crop growers lived on the margins of society, in remote, impoverished communities. It was not enough simply to eradicate their crops of opium or coca.
"Many are from minority or indigenous communities, threatened by armed conflict and intimidation. The cards are stacked against them and destroying their crops can push them over the edge into humanitarian crises, even into the arms of extremists. We should help growers, not impoverish them. The international community must have the wisdom to fight drugs and poverty simultaneously," Mr Costa added.
He called for a comprehensive development strategy that included better transport and infrastructure, improved security, health care, rural development, criminal justice, better education and good governance.
Mr Costa said the century-long international effort to control illicit drugs had been remarkably successful in many areas. World opium production, for example, had fallen to less than 5,000 tons a year today from around 30,000 tons one hundred years ago.
"World production and consumption of both heroin and cocaine have stabilized, consolidating a trend that began in the 1990s," he said.
But the good news on reducing supplies of opium and coca did not extend to cannabis.
"Cannabis is the weakest link in the global drug control chain and the global market for this illicit drug continues to thrive," Mr Costa said.
"Country implementation of the control regime varies considerably. Greater resolve, continuity and coherence are needed."
For the full text of Mr Costa's speech, click here.
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