What are legitimate alternatives to the production of illegal drugs in the countries that produce and export these drugs?

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Alternative livelihoods to drug producers and distributors (i.e., those whose livelihood is the drug trade) is not a simple matter, and efforts at the deployment of programs involving these alternatives have been mixed at best. The most common alternatives involve simply crop replacement.

In Peru, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has successfully promoted the replacement of coca bush production with coffee production. This success has been attributed to the protocol wherein the farmers themselves become shareholders in the companies in which their crops are distributed, as without some sort of mechanism like this, it would be difficult to entice farmers away from the lucrative business of drug production.

In Colombia, results have been less successful, both because of the existing extensiveness of the networks and because the government promoted complete eradication before the alternative crop production was undertaken, resulting in a lack of income for existing drug farmers. The countries of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos have met with more success because the alternative crop programs have been gradually phased in rather than being aimed at replacing the illicit crops immediately and entirely. The replacement crops grown here include apricots, onions, and garlic. Overall, however, alternative livelihood programs are not just about crop replacement; they require major improvements in infrastructure (such as roads, office spaces, and water access), communications technology, and healthcare. Only with these features will enough people move into these areas to support this new, legal economy.

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