15 November 2004
Success in Curbing Opium Production Across Golden Triangle Points to the Need for Development Resources
VIENNA, 15 November (UN Information Service) -- Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), together with Phongthep Thepkanjana, Thailands Minister of Justice, opened a six-day meeting on alternative development in Doi Tung Development Project in Chiang Rai, Thailand, on 14 November. Alternative development is a process that offers legal alternatives to communities dependent on income from illicit activities.
The meeting showcases a dramatic decline in drug production throughout the Golden Triangle clear evidence that alternative development is working, needs to be reinforced and can succeed worldwide. Above all, it offers participating experts an opportunity to compare best practices and explore whether the legal economy can successfully challenge, and replace, illegal incomes.
Thailand, the site of the meeting, has a high success rate in alternative development. It was one of the first countries in the world to succeed in the sustainable elimination of opium cultivation. Thailands victory over opium cultivation was the result of thirty years of development projects in the nations highlands, where UNODC and the international community worked hand-in-hand with the Thai Government to offer poor ethnic minorities, villagers and farmers economic alternatives to drug crops.
The heart of the Golden Triangle sends an important message out to the rest of the world. Alternative development is the only way ahead to combat illicit activities from inside, working on farmers well-being rather than on their fears, in a sustainable way, said Mr. Costa.
Thailand has been opium free since 1993. In less than a decade, Laos and Myanmar have reduced opium production by 78 per cent. Unless alternative development initiatives are launched, these farmers risk hunger and then humanitarian disaster. Now is the moment for nations and counter-drug agencies around the world to join together in the kind of global partnerships we need to bring alternative development projects to regions and peoples still held hostage by narco-economies, added Mr. Costa.
Worldwide, an estimated four million people depend on income derived from the cultivation of illicit drug crops, including coca and opium poppies. In most cases, these growers live below the poverty level and, on average, 50 per cent of their income is realized through drug-crop cultivation. Food shortages and the vagaries of other agricultural markets often force farmers to depend on drug crops. History however has demonstrated that, given alternative income options, farmers and their families are quick to abandon drug cultivation and embrace legitimate opportunities to make a living.
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