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Alternatives to Development Ideology Essay

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Updated: Jan 6th, 2022


According to Friedmann, alternative development is an ideology that argues for the modification of the already open imbalances in economic, social and political influence. From Friedmann’s point of view, we see that alternative development goes beyond the status quo of development discussion. Thus alternative development is inevitably centered in the ‘politics of claiming’ as it seeks to be the intellectual voice of the marginalized by trying to push for their interests in the development plan their moral claims as a response to the hegemonic powers that oppress them. Therefore, alternative development is seen as a defender of the poor and the less privileged in the society as it advocates for their socio-economic and political empowerment. Friedmann further argues that in order to achieve significant empowering beyond the grass root level, the state must play an important role as individual communities are not in a position because of different goals and interests.1

Unconventional/ Alternative Theories

The unconventional theories were as a result of the critics of the capitalism. They found that the existing capitalist structures were fundamentally flawed, lacked ethics and were dangerous to the man as well as the planet. The view of these theorists is that some existing characteristics and structures of the society need to be changed. An example of these characteristics is where nations redistribute wealth by taxing the rich and spending the revenues on subsidized social services such as affordable healthcare and education to all. They propose that market should be regulated through social planning and government intervention. Capitalism has bought social problems in the society like prostitution and crime also need to be addressed by sociologists. Generally, all these unconventional theories focus on the well balanced growth rather than economic growth. They view growth as possible threat to the lives of humans and animals especially the major issue of conserving our environment. They also argue that development can be achieved without growth a view that conflicts with the conventional theorist like the classical and neoclassical theorists. These developments can be achieved by: redistributing production; consumption and income from rich regions to poor regions. Among the alternative theories we will focus on are: the Marxist and neo-Marxist theories; post structural theories as well as the feminist theories.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

Alternative development refers to giving the people an economically, viable, legal alternative to the existing conventional methods of development. UNODC is currently implementing the alternative development strategies on six different nations. These nations are: Bolivia, Afghanistan, Peru, Myanmar, Colombia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic. An example is the case if Bolivia where the UNDOC works to reduce the growing of illegal crops such as cocoa. The activities involves agricultural-based initiatives, which lie at the center of the UNODC’s main operational activities at both the regional, national, sub regional as well as international levels. UNODC’s main operation mainly concentrates on the Latin America, Southern part of Central and South-East Asia because the regions have been profoundly affected by illicit trade of drugs. UNODC also helps these nations to integrate their drug control policies and strategies.

The Role of Alternative Development in the War on Drugs: The Case of Bolivia

In Bolivia, alternative development has help in fighting war against drug and drug trafficking. The Bolivian government in co-operation with the US and the UN have implanted several alternative development programs for a very long time to tried to solve the biggest problem of drug trafficking2. Due to its technicality, more integrated approaches are being considered in the implementation of these programs. These programs are implemented in area which has had a long history of growing coca such as the Yungas and Chapare. The alternative programs are versatile and adapted for the rural, poor and marginalized where the governing capacity is usually low with most of the farmer relying heavily on coca as the primary source of income. 3

The key objective of these programs is to reduce the amount of coca being cultivated and help the individuals and communities become part of legal economy. These programs are implemented with the aim of eradication either voluntarily or forcefully. Several alternate development programs are adopted. These projects are: creation of peace and the rule of law; increasing marketing and production capacities of their legal produce; helping individuals and communities develop in a sustainable manner; improving capabilities of local governments, producers and community based organizations as well as enhancing income substitution. Alternative development projects in Bolivia are mainly financed by the UN, US and the UK. However, their reasons for funding the alternative development projects are quite different among the donors. The UN and the European Union view these projects as development projects targeting poverty eradication and improving health while the US on the other hand perceive them as measures aimed at reducing coca plantation since the US is the largest market for the illicit drugs and this is one of the measures to reduce its entrance to the country. The conflict in interests among the donors has been noticed on the conditions required to be met by each donor for communities and individuals on when eradications should occur in order to obtain funds. The Un and the EU are often more versatile with the conditionality requirements before giving any aid where as the US is more rigid and does not give funds until after signing an agreement for complete eradication and they only issue funds after the condition has been met.4

When Evo Marales became the president in 2005, he raised the legal limit of coca plantation to 20,000 hectares and adopted a policy of ‘zero cocaine’ and not ‘zero coca.’ This policy led to the confrontation with the US government and even expulsion of the US ambassador in 2008. This was after the United States Agency for International Development was expelled from Chapare, one of the largest growers of coca in Bolivia. This has caused a diplomatic row between the two countries5.

The success or failure of the alternative development projects in Bolivia is hugely determined by the political leadership. Over the last three decades, the Bolivian government has changed their programs from forced eradication to voluntary projects. During the tenure of president Banzer. In 1998 he implemented a project called Plan Dignidad which successfully used forced eradication. Coca farming reduced but after the stop of forced eradication, the number of farmers rose steadily.

Impacts of alternative Development on Bolivia

The impacts of alternative development programs differ from program to program. Recently, most projects have had tremendous success are donors have adopted a more integrated and inclusive approach, however, the sustainability of these programs is uncertain without the support of the government as well as alternative financial sources. However, the evaluation of the success of these programs is not easy as each donor has a way of evaluation. This is seen in the case where programs which are funded by the US emphasizes on purely eradication, while programs which are funded by the EU and the UN focuses on development indices. Generally, alternative development programs have reported some success in several areas such as: land cultivation, Legal crop farming, increasing local government capabilities, creation of employment, increased production and marketing capabilities, and formation of producer associations, amid mixed eradication efforts among the donors6.

One of the most felt gains is the increase in the legal crop farming. Nearly all the alternate development programs were targeting an increase in legal crop farming. Even the success was significantly felt, some were not satisfied with the outcomes like the success of some programs depended on the types of crops being grown. Pineapple and banana farmers were satisfied and were willing to increase their production where as citrus and palm heart were not happy with the prices.7

Another major gain took place in the cultivation of land. The government introduced a policy of registration of the in their lands and issuing of title deeds and was partially assisted by USAID. Having title deeds gives farmers a sense of security in their country which in turn encourages them to invest in their land.

Strengthening and building the capacity of producer associations and local governments is also another significant development the alternative development programs has brought. An example was an instance where an organization of agro forestry farmers increased their own capital investment capacities, commercializing their products and supplying technical assistance to its associates. Alternative development haves also helps in raising the capacity of local governments through offering training opportunities to them to help them improve in their public administration skills. However, sometimes the USAID has had a negative effect on local governments as it sometimes refuses to work with many of them because of the condition have not been met, like an instance in Chapere where it declined to work with the municipalities but instead formed its own producer association.


Areas for Improvement

In spite of the success, alternative development should improve in certain areas of service delivery in order to be efficient. According to a survey by the Development Associates International, the rapid change in farming legal crops was due to some reasons. These reasons are: the alternative development projects were profitable; the farmers accepted the alternative development program; and finally, they were able to depend on the alternative development projects. Moreover for the alternative development to be efficient, the stakeholders should improve on: reduce conditionality; increase participation; planning; sustainability as well as increased financing. In improving these the AD have the capacity to make substantial contribution in improving the living standards of families as well as helping in curbing drug trafficking. The US can also help in improving the alternative development projects by reducing the conditionality they impose on governments. Since growing coca is more profitable than growing legal crops, farmers find it risky in adopting new crops, so when the US impose strict conditions, farmers may not necessarily comply as they may keep some of their coca for security purposes. 8

Research has proved that coca farmers are willing to venture into a less profitable farming, if the change comes with increased security and technical aid. The donors are therefore encouraged to help governments in fighting drug traffickers and remove them from drug- growing areas of the country. The farmers will feel secure in changing it growing legal crops as they will be no longer threat of violence. Donors are also advised to do better job planning projects. In many programs in Bolivia, many crops failed because there was no better research done to determine their ability to grow in certain areas with different climate or if there was readily available market for the crops. They should also conduct a survey to determine the availability of infrastructure to help in transportation of crops to the market or even storage facilities.


  1. Zapeda, C. Development Alternatives or Alternatives to development: The creative whirlwinds of the Alternatives, 2006, pp.127-129.
  2. UN, , 2005.
  3. Phan-Gruber, E. The Role of Alternative Development in the “War on Drugs”: The Case of Bolivia, 2010.
  4. Ibid p.7
  5. Europe Aid, “ PRAEDAC: Alternative Development in Bolivia”, (n.d). Web.
  6. McMichael, P. Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective” 4th ed., Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage/Pine Forge, 2008.
  7. Ibid p. 204
  8. Peet, R & Hartwick, E. Theories of development: contentions, arguments. Alternatives” 2nd ed. The Guilford Press. New York 2009.
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