Between Reality and Abstraction

Guiding Principles and developing alternatives for illicit crop producing regions in Peru
Mirella van Dun, Hugo Cabieses Cubas and Pien Metaal
TNI Drug Policy Briefing Nr. 39
January 2013

At the International Conference on Alter­native Development (ICAD), held 15-16 November 2012 in Lima, the Peruvian Government continued to insist on the relevance of “Alternative Development (AD),” with particular emphasis on the so-called San Martín “miracle” or “model.” The model, started with the support of in­ternational cooperation, is proposed by Peru as a paradigm to be followed world­wide by regions and countries that also deal with problems associated with crops grown for illicit purposes.

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The goal of the ICAD conference in Lima was to reach a consensus on 'Guiding Prin­ciples', based on a draft prepared at the first ICAD meeting in Thailand in November 2011. The principles should facilitate the implementation of effective Alternative De­velopment programs, assessed in two ways: economic development of regions where il­licit crops are grown, and the reduction of these crops. The document will be pre­sented for approval at the fifty-sixth session of the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) to be held in March 2013. It is seen as the culmination of a long process that can be traced back to the debate that began at the UN General As­sembly Special Ses­sion (UNGASS) on Drugs in 1998.

The supposed world consensus on princi­ples to guide Alternative Development pro­jects appear to be far removed from the reality of the Upper Huallaga Valley, the very zone were Peru's supposedly exem­plary model for Alternative Development is being implemented. This briefing exposes the breach between rhetoric and reality by examining the impact of AD projects in Peru, focussing on its impact on peasant families.

The experience of Upper Huallaga shows, like many other AD projects, severe limita­tions in these programmes' goals of reduc­ing coca-production and achieving the broader aims of sustainable development. They reach relatively few farmers, with “beneficiaries” accounting for less than one quarter of the farmers in the region. They promote monocrop cultivation in a bio­logical diverse area, resulting in severe environmental impacts. Their success relies on large-scale production for export in an area that is not apt for this kind of farming due to its ecological fragility and soil qual­ity. Finally the programmes are unsustain­able over time because they depend on international demand and prices of the products it promotes: cacao, coffee, palm heart, palm oil and sugar cane.

The key question that the international community should ask when the document is discussed during the CND in March 2013 in Vienna is if these Guiding Principles will help break the failed logic applied until now, which has prioritised forced eradica­tion and added development as an after­thought. In addition, given that this is an issue that goes to the heart of rural devel­opment, it is essential to identify the stake­holders these projects are geared to and to define if the development model promoted is appropriate to meet the stated goal.


  • The Guiding Principles for Alternative Development should break with the ap­plied logic in which forced eradication is the principal objective and development considered a detail.
  • Peru is trying to peddle to the world the success of its model to replace coca econ­omy, but this model confirms in the short, medium, and long term the most common failures of “Alternative Development”
  • According to the Alternative Develop­ment project participants in the Upper Huallaga, national and international agen­cies only measure “success” by the reduc­tion of coca crops and do not take into ac­count the opinion of residents.
  • Successive Peruvian governments have wasted opportunities to increase a more positive state presence in coca-growing regions due to the application of forced eradication operations and failure to im­ple­ment sustainable development projects.
  • For Alternative Development projects to work, it remains fundamentally im­portant to understand how illegal activities are em­bedded in the local context and why they continue to be impenetrable to efforts to combat them.