Changing what flowers or plants a country grows might not seem like the most obvious way to increase security, but in some countries, a new seed or training program can make the difference for many farmers looking to replace illicit crops with legal ones.
In Afghanistan, 85 percent of the people depend on farming activities for their livelihood, but droughts and instability have devastated food production. Farmers often turned to poppy cultivation because it brought in more revenue than ordinary crops. In Colombia, rural, poor communities often produce coca leaves because it is the most viable way to make a living.
Sometimes farmers lack the technical expertise to cultivate new crops. They may also lack funds to invest in new crops or don’t know how to convert them into products for sale or export. USAID has developed programs that address these challenges and help farmers make a living.
Working with the Afghan government, USAID broadcasts information about the joint national poppy eradication program over radio announcements and offers farmers vouchers for seeds and fertilizer, plus technical assistance.
Once the crops are harvested and sold, the farmers repay the value of the seed and fertilizer into a fund that is used for other community development projects.
In Colombia, the program taught farmers new planting techniques, plant care, and fertilizer applications for growing crops like cacao, rubber, acacia, melina, teak, and other products that can be sold locally or exported. Another program works with rural producers, many of whom are women, to grow and export specialty coffees.
These programs not only improve the lives of farmers and their families by increasing their ability to earn a decent living and provide for themselves, but they also increase security in the country and the region by undercutting the power of drug cartels.
In both countries, viable and sustainable agricultural activities have allowed farmers to earn income from legal crops in place of illegal crops like poppy and coca. USAID is working with the governments of each country to make alternatives available.
In Afghanistan’s Kandahar province alone, over 8,000 farmers are learning how to successfully raise and market different crops through technical assistance programs. In the Urabá region of Colombia, some 1,500 farmers have benefited from these programs.