Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured to join you today to celebrate Thailand's remarkable alternative development projects.
Alternative development is a sustainable pathway to ending illicit drug cultivation, while reducing poverty and improving people's lives.
The economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more urgent to stand by vulnerable communities, and to support their livelihoods and dignity.
Providing licit, sustainable incomes to substitute illicit crop cultivation allows us to live up to that responsibility, and to build towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Over the years, Thailand has been a shining example to the world in successfully implementing alternative development.
The work of the Royal Project Foundation and the Mae Fah Luang Foundation has led to the eradication of opium poppy cultivation in the country, and has significantly reduced poverty in rural areas, and contributed to the protection of the environment.
The biggest winners have been the local communities who now thrive on licit economic activities, benefitting from forest and water resources that had previously been depleted by opium cultivation.
At the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, we are grateful to Thailand for sharing the lessons of its experience with the international community, by taking the lead on a number of resolutions on alternative development at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and through regular CND side events and expert group meetings.
We have partnered with Thailand to advocate for alternative development as a sustainable drug control strategy, and use its good practices to inform our alternative development work with Member States.
Guided by Thailand's experience, our Office works in the Greater Mekong region and beyond to introduce high-value cash crops as alternatives to illicit crop cultivation, to enhance the technical skills of farmers, and to support farmers' organizations in commercializing their products in local and international markets, in partnership with the private sector.
Results speak to the sustainable outcomes of alternative development.
In Southeast Asia, we have partnered with French coffee producer Malongo, who is buying coffee from over 400 plantations established by families in Lao PDR with support from UNODC.
Together, we are also supporting more than 4,000 farmers in Myanmar, enabling them to export 100 tons of coffee to France in 2020.
I am also very proud of the many positive social, economic, and environmental impacts of our alternative development work in other parts of the world.
In Afghanistan, our alternative development programme supports 60,000 beneficiaries, almost half of whom are women.
In Colombia, 180,000 families have given up coca bush cultivation in favour of licit activities, while reforestation of former coca plantations helped remove 100 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
In Peru, UNODC-supported farmer associations are exporting products worth 150 million dollars annually; and in Bolivia, 600 families are now operating over 700 plantations of licit crops.
Alternative development works. Thailand has led the way in proving its effectiveness, and UNODC is committed to our long-standing partnership to promote its lessons with the broader international community.
Today, I look forward to sampling some of the wonderful products from alternative development projects.
They are proof that communities can turn away from illicit enterprises, and make decisive steps towards sustainable development, when given the right opportunities.