Prices of cocaine at wholesale level are reportedly skyrocketing owing to successful enforcement by drug agencies around the world. More interestingly, the price elasticity at sale is so high, that consumers perceive they are paying the same price per volume, whereas they are actually buying insecticide and other cuttable agents.

The BBC report on this today, but neglect to mention the impact that this enforcement is having on the farmgate price or export price from the developing country producers. Agencies regularly recommend using the lure of alternative legal livelihoods for the producers of illicit drugs to reduce total production. See here for the UNODC. This often fails owing to the relative farmgate value of the legal and illegal crops. No to mention the different supply chains involved and other, less savoury aspects of growing illegal crops in developing countries.

Is now the right time for leveraging the goal excellently stated by the UNODC: “The success of quality alternative development interventions is undeniable; however, many challenges still lie ahead. The gains made in reducing illicit cultivation in key countries over the past decade could come undone if poverty does not abate. Poverty alleviation and sustainable development should continue to be the main goals of alternative development.”

So, is the recession combined with more successful enforcement of trade at the consumption level providing a renewed impetus for legal sustainable development? It is not often convergence of global economics unveils an opportunity – the question is can this convergence be determined, and can donors and national governments act quickly enough to seize this opportunity? Missing opportunities has grave consequences, as the explosion in opium planting in Laos proves – loss in tourism coupled with a weakened economy, has seen farmers lured back to illegal crop production.

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