Why peasants from certain regions of the world cultivate the three plants – coca leaves, cannabis and opium poppy – that the international conventions have declared to be illicit? That was the essential question that was discussed at the First Global Forum of Producers of Crops Declared to be Illicit (FMPCDI), that took place in El Prat de Llobregat near Barcelona on January 29-31, 2009.
The conclusions of the Forum will be submitted to the High Level Segment of the 52th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna on March 11-12, 2009, dedicated to review of the progress achieved and the difficulties encountered by in meeting the goals and targets set out in the 1998 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Countering World Drug Problem.
The situation of peasants that are producers of crops declared to be illicit
|Ricardo Soberon and Pien Metaal addressing the Forum|
Heroin, cocaine and cannabis, the most widely known illegal drugs causing concern to the international community, are all produced from plants: the opium poppy for heroin, the coca bush for cocaine and cannabis for marihuana or hashish. Peasant communities in Asia, Africa and Latin America are the main producers of these crops, which occupy considerable areas of land.
According to the latest figures published by the UN, in 2007 the illicit cultivation of opium poppy covered more than 235,000 hectares, mainly in Asia, of which an estimated 190,000 were in Afghanistan. The coca leaf extended over an estimated 180,000 hectares in three Andean countries (Bolivia, Colombia and Peru), half of which could be found in Colombia alone. Overall, over the past ten years, cultivation of opium poppy and coca bush is at about the same level as 1998. However, the potential production of heroin and cocaine further down the line has increased.
On cannabis, without any doubt the most widely cultivated illicit crop, UN figures for 2004/2005 haphazardly point to 230,000 hectares worldwide, with Morocco alone accounting for about 72,000 hectares (134,000 hectares in 2003). On a global scale, and for decades now, millions of people are sustained or survive on the basis of the agricultural production of these ‘drug plants’, even though they earn the smallest share of the revenue from the international drug trafficking chain.
One of the targets of the 1998 UNGASS was “to develop strategies with a view to eliminating or significantly reducing the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy by the year 2008.” This target has not been achieved, but over the past decade producers of these plants have been subjected to forced erradication of their livelihoods, arrests and incarceration and stigmatization as drug traffickers.
Cultivation is often concentrated in areas where conflict, insecurity and vulnerability prevail. Erradication campaigns regularly resulted in the militarisation of producer regions involving them in anti-insurgent policies as well as producing serious human rights violations. Programmes to provide producers of those plants with alternative livelihoods have repeatedly been inadequate – with few positive experiences. Development assistance is often made conditional on reductions in illicit drug crop cultivation, while eradication measures should not take place unless small-farmer households have adopted viable and sustainable livelihoods.
Continuing high cultivation levels have created pressure on policy makers and the drug control and development community to come up with quick fixes and one-size fits all solutions, instead of looking for long-term and sustainable policies to contribute to reduce cultivation levels of the plants declared to be illicit. Drug control interventions suffer from an unbalanced approach and are often poorly sequenced. There has been too much focus on law enforcement measures, including eradication, and too little investment in alternative development.
Forced crop eradication, has not been effective either, and even has been denounced as counter-productive, leading to humanitarian disasters in several cases. Particularly in places where aerial spraying has been applied, notably in Colombia, environmental damage and human health problems have been inflicted.
The population involved in the growing of illicit plants are not consulted by the national and international decision-making bodies, and their voice is not taken into account when designing strategies – of which they are supposed to be ‘beneficiaries’ – to find a way out of this dramatic situation. At the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the legislative entity of the UN drug control system, these voices are hardly ever considered.
There are few countries where trade unions of illicit crop producers exist, although in one exceptional case (Bolivia) a peasant leader of the ‘cocaleros’ was elected president. Some relations have been developed amongst these trade unions in the Andes, but they have no contact whatsoever with the peasant communities who grow poppy and cannabis in other continents. In most cases these communities are isolated, dispersed, and marginalised.
The Global Forum of Producers of Crops Declared to be Illicit was the first attempt to unite the growers of different plants worldwide and offer a space for dialogue in which participants can exchange their experience, discuss their problems, reflect on their situations and organize future collaboration to address their interests, protect their human rights and to propose models of sustainable development.
The Forum was attended by more than 70 leaders and representatives of producers as well as indigenous groups from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa, coming from different countries where the three plants are cultivated. More than 30 international experts, and representatives of NGO’s and government institutions attended as well.
What are the objectives?
UNGASS: United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Countering World Drug Problem
The conclusions of the Forum will be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Countering World Drug Problem, to be held in Vienna on March 11-12, 2009, in which international strategies against these kind of crops will be decided.
A note on the organizersCERAI (Spanish acronym for the Centre of Rural Studies and International Agriculture) was the main organizer of this international meeting, with the support of the Association des Populations de Montagne du Monde (APMM), the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the financial support the German Cooperation Agency (GTZ), the Fondation pour le progrès de l’Homme (FPH), Open Society Institute (OSI) and Barcelona Solidària (Barcelona Council).
More information:Secretariat of the FMPCDI-CERAI