Cropsubstitution Efforts

Crop substitution—the replacement of opium, coca, or marijuana production with a legal agricultural commodity—can never be successful by itself, because of the immense profits from illicit-drug cultivation. A more broadly defined income-replacement approach (which may include an agricultural crop-substitution component), however, coupled with strong law enforcement, may succeed in convincing drug growers to stop planting the illicit crop.

In the Malakand District of Pakistan's NorthWest Frontier Province, the U.S.—Pakistani efforts in the early 1980s to implement a fully integrated, rural development project, which provided roads, water, electrification, and agricultural substitutes (e.g., peanuts, apples), resulted in a net reduction in opium poppy production. Providing project support for the 300,000 inhabitants of the district enabled local residents to earn an income from an extensive road-building and infrastructure development program, thus making cultivation of the opium poppy unnecessary. A side benefit of the development efforts was the creation of valuable infrastructures to raise the standard of living throughout the region and encourage the nomadic populations to establish roots and achieve more stable living conditions.

The Highland Village Project in northern Thailand has provided similar benefits to the culturally diverse, opium-producing hill tribes. This resulted in decreased opium cultivation consistently in the early 1990s. In Laos, the Houaphanh project near the remote border region with Vietnam began in 1990 to provide area development incentives (of improved water and roads and medical and educational benefits) for growers who opted to cease planting opium. In the Western Hemisphere, a principal component of the Andean Strategy to eliminate illicit coca in Peru and Bolivia has an economic-assistance element that provides hard-currency earnings, trade incentives, and local project assistance to entice the growers away from coca cultivation. Some funds have already been expended on agro-research (discovering viable crops), infrastructure development, extension training, and rudimentary marketing.

In the broadest sense of the term, crop substitution worked rather effectively in Turkey in the early 1970s when a government cash subsidy permitted the farmers to harvest the poppy before the plant ripened to produce the opium gum. In this way, the traditional cooking and ceremonial uses of poppy could be maintained through the poppy straw process, as it is called, but the seed pod would not be available for the illicit opium gum.

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