What are the failures of international efforts to provide economic alternatives to illicit drugs?

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The US's "War on Drugs" began under Richard Nixon in 1971. While this war has undergone various stages, the first few decades focused almost exclusively on the prohibition of illegal substances and the forestalling and breaking up of drug trafficking organizations. With these efforts, the local governments in these areas became less stable, and the farmers of illicit crops were often left impoverished with little recourse to assistance. Only relatively recently did the provision of alternative livelihoods become a serious effort, alongside other alternate strategies such as decriminalization and public health programs. Where these have failed, they have done so because they have not been given sufficient economic support. Alternate livelihoods must guarantee that former or would-be drug traders or farmers can make adequate money from the proposed legal avenue. For this to happen, the entire economy surrounding the alternate crop or trade needs to be supported, and this has not been ensured by the existing programs.

Countries that have undertaken especially extensive alternative livelihood programs include the US (especially in the most recent decade, though the concept of alternative livelihoods dates back to the 1960s) and Bolivia. Alternative livelihood campaigns have often been undertaken alongside forced eradication, and the latter is deemed dangerous and minimally effective. Thus, it is difficult to ascertain which method has failed. Finally, perhaps the single most important reason why the program of alternative livelihoods have failed is because the alternate crops are not able to be cultivated immediately, and illicit drug farmers' incomes threaten to be fully eliminated before they can be replaced. In the US (where farmer is less prevalent and drug sales are the persistent problem), the problem is that there is such a large demand for illicit drugs that it would be difficult to replace the income generated from these sales.

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