Thailand has almost completely eradicated trade in opium by replacing it with other crops. Coordinated efforts between the Royal Family, government and NGOs have focused on educating the public, establishing strong law enforcement practices and building alternative income streams in fruit farming or crafts. Thailand is now widely regarded as a leading example in Alternative Livelihood Development.
Results & Impact
Between 1991 and 2000, annual opium production in Thailand dropped from 23 to 6 tonnes, with an eradication rate of between 800 and 1,000 hectares a year. The Doi Tung Development Project works in 29 villages benefiting 11,000 people, and has been recognised by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime as one of the best examples of Sustainable Alternative Livelihood Development in the world.
Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage, Doi Tung Development Project, Thailand Ministry of Education
Over a period of decades the Mah Fah Luang Foundation implemented the Doi Tung Development project, after Thailand's Princess Mother pledged to address poverty in the marginalised region. The program worked in three stages, first alleviating immediate poverty through healthcare and basic education, then working with communities on new entrepreneurial opportunities. Its ongoing final stage developed growth opportunities and a recognisable local brand, Doi Tung. The initiative built on government projects that had been preventing growth of the opium through law enforcement and welfare committees since the 1950s.
General public, rural population, low-income people
Cost & Value
In 2000 the Trust founded to direct the project became self-sufficient through the farming and businesses it had established, having previously been funded by government and royal grants.
Running since 1988
Although opium production has been radically reduced in Thailand, the program has not eliminated all substances. Drugs like ketamine or methamphetamine are more difficult to control, as they are laboratory-produced rather than cultivated as a crop.
The Alternative Development model pioneered in Doi Tung was brought to Myanmar in 2002 following cooperation between the governments of the two countries. Later, similar approaches were adopted by Laos and Afghanistan.
Thailand’s successful efforts to eradicate opium harvesting have made the country a leader in the global fight against the drugs trade.
The country’s decades-long program of Alternative Livelihood Development – replacing narcotics production by supporting communities to take up legal, sustainable sources of income – has been used by governments in neighbouring Myanmar and Laos, and as far afield as South America and New Zealand.
Between 1991 and 2000, annual opium production in Thailand dropped from 23 tonnes to 6 tonnes, with an annual eradication rate of between 800 and 1,000 hectares a year.
Focusing on the hilly areas of the north where marginalised tribal populations have been harvesting opium for centuries, Thailand’s campaign against opium has developed income streams in tourism, coffee, and fruit farming. Running in various permutations since the 1960s, it has been made possible by long term cooperation between the Royal Family, government and small communities.
The flagship project for the reduction program, and one of the most successful examples of the approach, is the Doi Tung Development Project. The trust has been recognised by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime as one of the best examples of sustainable alternative livelihood Development in the world. It began life as an endeavour by Thailand’s Princess Mother in 1988, and by 2000 became self-sufficient, having previously been funded by government and royal grants.
Marginalised communities are often driven to grow narcotics due to their lack of other options, and are exposed to violence, poor working conditions and low pay. The Doi Tung mountain area, which spans around 15,000 hectares, was a prime example of this deprivation, with poor infrastructure, scant government support and a rampant drugs trade. The 29,000-person population consisted of tribal people who often lacked citizenship, and the natural resources of the region had been depleted by slash-and-burn farming.
The Doi Tung project tackled these problems in three stages across thirty years. In the first five, it sought to address the basics, building up health care and education provision to tackle extreme poverty. The following 15 years focused on developing income streams that could serve as an alternative to opium. That meant cultivating crops but also working with communities to explore how base products could be developed to move up the value chain, teaching locals to roast and grind coffee, for example, or produce crafts.
Development of the coffee trade followed that rationale. First, farmers were trained to grow a better crop. Later, the Doi Tung project trained farmers to roast and grind the beans they cultivated, and set up links with buyers in hospitality and retail for selling in bulk. It supported the community to build and develop a recognisable Doi Tung brand. Finally it helped farmers set up 17 coffee shops, recognising that the profit margins on selling coffee by the cup are much higher than from sales of the crop itself.
The final, and current, stage aims at financial sustainability. Though many of the business ventures in Doi Tung are already self-sufficient, the royal foundation aims to hand over management of the project to local leaders by 2017. To make that possible, it’s now focusing on capacity building, especially educating local business skills and growing the Doi Tung brand. The project worked in partnership with the Thai Ministry of Education to enhance the curriculum of schools in the region.
Cooperation between government departments, the Royal Family and the local people of the area built on a long-term – and sometimes somewhat ad hoc – anti-narcotics effort carried out by the government of the area since the 1960s. The cultivation of opium was banned outright in Thailand in 1959, and the National Tribal Welfare committee, Department of Public Welfare and Royal Forestry Department began developing crop replacement and poverty alleviation policies.
These weren’t just focused on developing alternative streams of income. Government efforts included issuing IDs to people living in the hill regions, giving an entry into the formal economy to people who otherwise were discriminated against because they belonged to tribal groups.
(Picture credit: Thanate Tan)