December 25, 2003


Peru's latest tool in the war on drugs: land ownership: Some coca growers pull up illicit crops in favor of palm-oil trees and pineapples. (Lucien O. Chauvin, 12/26/03, CS Monitor)

The Peruvian government and US Embassy officials hope that ownership in the land and the equity that comes with it will help solidify recent gains in the decades-long war on drugs.

"We are trying to formalize the economy in these areas to increase investment and production, which is the only answer to combat drug trafficking," says a US Embassy official in Lima.

Hernando de Soto, author of The Other Path, the 1986 bible on the importance of formalizing the economy, says the process is a major step toward changing the entire illicit economy on which drug trafficking is based.

"Property changes the rules of the game. It gives farmers something tangible they can use as collateral. It is a bargaining chip they never had before," he says.

With land titles, farmers can enroll individually or as communities in a number of government programs, like housing services or agricultural assistance.

USAID has earmarked $1.3 million to title 4,300 plots of land, most averaging about 30 acres. The Peruvian government's Special Land Titling Program (PETT) is carrying out the program, which involves 15 eight-person brigades. The value of the plots being titled in Shambillo is approximately $5 million.

Omar Valderrama, a PETT director, says the program shows people that the state is interested in improving the livelihoods of farmers and not simply eliminating the illegal drug industry.

" We have found a successful formula to combat the drug economy that will allow us to transform this region and begin to create new levels of prosperity," he says.

Though he's expressed his regrets about running, one can't help thinking that Peruvians and the rest of us might have been saved much agony had Maria Vargas Llosa succeeded in his 1990 presidential campaign, which was very much in keeping with the ideas of Mr. de Soto.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 25, 2003 11:16 AM

My wife is from Peru and just returned from there a few weeks ago. She said it the worst shape she has seen it in 20 years.

Posted by: BJW at December 26, 2003 10:35 AM

I'm all in favor of having agricultural producers either own the land and control it on long leases, but pineapple is in worldwide glut and not likely to revive any time soon.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 26, 2003 3:21 PM

Yeah, but one person's depressed price is another person's fair value.
Thus, we have Vietnamese coffee farmers putting Central American farmers out of business.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at December 26, 2003 10:58 PM

Probably not equivalent examples.

As far as I know, the Vietnamese coffee glut is not subsidized. Pineapple is, by Thailand.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 27, 2003 2:48 PM