With Farmers Lacking Alternatives, Paraguay Marijuana Production Surges

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A new report says authorities in Paraguay have been unable to stop a boom in marijuana production because farmers cannot earn a comparable income growing licit crops, a pattern reflected in other drug-producing areas in the region.

Officials from Paraguay’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD) told the Washington Post in an August 17 report that drug production in the country is on the rise.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Paraguay is the largest producer of marijuana in South America, and the fourth-largest producer in the world after Mexico, the United States and Nigeria. Nearly all of the drug enters into the international black market, with less than one percent going to fulfill domestic demand in the small, landlocked nation of fewer than seven million people, the Washington Post reported.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay

One sign suggesting ramped up production is the spike in marijuana seizures and eradication in 2017 — though it is also plausible that political factors could play into this increase. Authorities in Paraguay seized more than 700 metric tons of marijuana during the first half of this year, more than double the 276 tons seized in all of 2016. Moreover, authorities estimate they will have destroyed more than 2,400 hectares of marijuana plantations by year’s end, which would be the highest figure seen in a decade.

An August 20 report from local news outlet Última Hora highlights how conditions of extreme poverty and a lack of state presence in marijuana-producing areas have contributed to residents deciding to cultivate the illicit crop.

For example, in the department of San Pedro — one of Paraguay’s poorest — residents must spend 1,000,000 Paraguayan guaranís (around $180) to maintain one hectare of manioc, a woody shrub that is one of the country’s most widely-cultivated crops. In return, they earn just 500,000 Paraguayan guaranís (around $90), Última Hora reported.

This echoed the Washington Post article, which reported that many residents view marijuana as a “high-risk, high-reward cash crop” with a “better yield” than soybeans, the country’s second-largest export.

InSight Crime Analysis

Paraguay provides another example of how government efforts to control the growth of illicit crops often fall short without adequate investments in ensuring that farmers have viable alternative economic opportunities.

For example, the relatively high profitability of coca cultivation for small farmers in Colombia has contributed to record production in the Andean nation. The country’s crop substitution program is beset by various problems, and has been counterbalanced by a redoubled focus on eradication that has alienated some coca-producing communities.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy

Authorities in Guatemala have also in the past tried to implement forced eradication campaigns and crop substitution programs to tackle illicit opium crop cultivation. However, they have struggled to control cultivation, and were forced to declare a “state of siege” in San Marcos department — one of the country’s poppy hubs — in May of this year after two local communities employed by Mexican cartels reportedly came into violent conflict over control of the area’s poppy cultivation.

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