Impact Story

Informing alternative policy approaches in the ‘war’ on illicit crops

Published on 1 August 2018

IDS has produced vital new evidence to show how land property rights could be an effective policy tool in the fight against illicit crop production in Colombia, one of the world’s largest producers of coca.

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The evidence has implications for policy in developing countries with similar problems relating to illicit crops, such as Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, Afghanistan and Vietnam.

The multi-year project, led by IDS researcher Juan-Carlos Muñoz-Mora
stemming from his PhD work, culminated in 2018 with an article published in the World Development journal. The article prompted the Colombian government and USAID to invite the researchers to explain
the findings and provide technical assistance to improve their interventions against illicit crops.

Since the 1990s, when Colombia first emerged as the leading coca producer, the Colombian and US governments have waged a military-led fight against drug production in the South American country. Billions of dollars were spent and yet coca production levels stayed the same, even though less land was being cultivated. Relatively little attention has been paid until now to the relationship between the strength of land property rights and illicit activities.

The project showed that formal land property rights could change risk-taking behaviour among small-scale producers once law enforcement increases, reducing the total land allocated to these crops. Of particular interest was an index developed by Juan-Carlos Muñoz-Mora and co-authors of the article, as a way of identifying informal property rights for individuals with no property deeds and no formal property recognition or rights.

Alternative, non-military approach

In collaboration with the University of Andes, Colombia and the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) in the Netherlands, the project set out to provide much-needed evidence in support of alternative, nonmilitary-
led approaches to the problem.

Two types of impact – conceptual and concrete – emerged. Firstly, the findings helped to strengthen the wider debate on alternative development policy tools in developing countries. It also provided robust quantitative evidence on implementing land formalisation programmes as an effective tool in tackling illicit crops.

Secondly, the researchers had a series of meetings with the Colombian government and USAID focused on how the project’s findings could help to improve current interventions in regions producing
illicit crops.

They encouraged policymakers to develop an intervention that was not based on military strength but rather on the fundamental reasons for the persistence of illicit crops. They provided evidence about the state of land property rights in Colombia and specific details of places where stronger rights had led to a drop in coca crops.

This level of data should enable policymakers to develop a case study approach to future work – with implications not only for the Colombian situation but also for wider USAID policies. Juan-Carlos Muñoz-Mora’s PhD work on the micro-level analysis of civil conflict formed the basis of the project. More broadly, it builds on IDS’s rich history of analysing the relationship between violent conflict and household welfare.


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Research themes
Conflict and Violence

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