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Afghanistan: UN Drug Agency Promotes 'Alternative Development' For Curbing Poppy Cultivation

Is there any better crop? (AFP) In a report released today in New York, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says almost all of the heroin entering Europe comes from Afghanistan. The INCB also says that the strategy of encouraging opium-poppy farmers to switch to other crops is not working and that an "alternative development" approach is needed.

UNITED NATIONS, 1 March 2006 (RFE/RL) – Over the years, the INCB has searched for the best ways to encourage farmers growing plants used for producing illegal drugs to get out of that lucrative business.

A key focus has been on opium-poppy growers in Afghanistan and coca growers in Latin America. In both cases, international development agencies have urged the farmers to switch to food crops -- like wheat or corn – instead, despite the fact that can be much less profitable.

But in a report issued today in New York and based upon data collected in 2005, the Vienna-based INCB tacitly acknowledges that this "crop substitution" strategy has largely failed.

The report recommends instead that governments and international agencies now switch to what it calls a "comprehensive alternative-development approach." That is an approach that would include not only the cultivation of alternative crops, but would emphasize transport and infrastructure development, education, health care, security, stability, and good governance in opium-poppy- and coca-growing areas.

"The idea of crop substitution is a faulty one because there is no crop that could replace in value the amount that either the coca growers or the opium growers or, for that matter, the marijuana growers could make through their illegal cultivation of these substances," Melvyn Levitsky, a retired U.S. diplomat and a INCB board member, said at a press conference at the UN on 28 February. "The idea of alternative development and legitimate livelihoods is to take a broad, integrated approach toward the issue, both on the supply side and on the demand side."

The alternative-development approach, the INCB report says, should also take into account socioeconomic conditions, geographical factors, marketing, trade, government services, and the way law and order is applied in drug-growing parts of the world.

Law And Order Key Factor

Levitsky said it is recognized that most drug cultivation happens in areas that are de facto ungovernable by a central authority. Afghanistan is a glaring example, he said, because influential warlords, whose main income is derived from drugs, exercise unobstructed power in their fiefdoms.

"The question is how do you bring government into these areas, how do you entice those growers into moving toward legitimate activities, how could you provide services and education for their children along with the prospect of losing their income if in fact law enforcement prevails, into a sustainable development that will keep these people out of the drug production area," Levitsky said.

The INCB report, which looks at drug issues worldwide, includes other observations about the Afghan drug trade.

Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and the Central Asian states -- in particular Tajikistan -- the report says, continue to be the main points for transshipment of Afghan heroin that is destined for markets in Europe and North America.

Pakistan remains the country with the largest seizure of opiates: in 2003 the haul was 34.7 tons, or 31 percent of global seizures. Seizures of opiates in Turkey increased almost threefold, the report says, from 5.7 tons in 2003 to 14.7 in 2004.

In 2004, seizures of opium in Iran increased to 174 tons, nearly double the number recorded in 2003. Iran, the report says, is the country with by far the largest volume of seized opium. In 2003, the last year for which data on global opium seizures are available, Iran accounted for 73 percent of global opium seizures.