Spatial borderland biography: Myanmar

Drugs & (dis)order is making as much of its anonymised research data as possible accessible to other researchers and users, via the UK Data Service. Details of how to access the data are on the UKDS landing page for each dataset.

This geodatabase, built by Alcis, containing spatial data for Kachin and Shan states on research sites, points of interest, administrative boundaries, population, transport and road networks, infrastructure (development projects, cell towers, places of worship, visible lights at night), agriculture, land use, hydrology and catchment areas.

Spatial borderland biography: Colombia

Drugs & (dis)order is making as much of its anonymised research data as possible accessible to other researchers and users, via the UK Data Service. Details of how to access the data are on the UKDS landing page for each dataset.

This geodatabase, built by Alcis, containing spatial data on research sites, border crossings, narcotics (coca production), borderland points of interest, administrative boundaries, population, transport and road networks, infrastructure, agriculture and hydrology.

Spatial borderland biography: Afghanistan

Drugs & (dis)order is making as much of its anonymised research data as possible accessible to other researchers and users, via the UK Data Service. Details of how to access the data are on the UKDS landing page for each dataset.

This geodatabase, built by Alcis, containing spatial data for Nangarhar, Badakhshan, Nimroz and Helmand: borderland locations, narcotics (opium production), borderland points of interest, drug routes, administrative boundaries, population, security events, transport and road networks, infrastructure, agriculture, crop cycles and hydrology.

“Everyone here feels that they have been let down by the government.”


Audio translation
Question: When you decided to take out the coca as part of this programme, what was your motivation to do so, why did you make the decision?
Answer: On the one hand, because we know that it’s illicit, and that we’re working breaking the law. So, if the government provides some sort of support, we’d get rid of it … because coca causes a lot of conflict and a lot of problems. So, we told ourselves that if the government offers us the means to get rid of it, or to grow cacao or palm because there’s no problems with these, then we would. But if the government doesn’t fulfil the agreement … all of us here in my village feel directly let down [by the government].

We met Yolanda* for the first time in December 2018 in a rural area of Tumaco. That same day, she recounted to us an unimaginable situation: it had already been a year since she eradicated her coca crops and she still hadn’t received the first food assistance payment. Since the arrival of the PNIS in the area, not a day has passed without Yolanda having to fight with officials about the lack of payments. In the different conversations we had concerning her situation, Yolanda repeats, “everything has been problematic with this programme.”


Audio translation
Question: When you found out about the substitution, did you think that it was going to change your life?
Answer: Yes of course. Well I said that it was going to change our situation, that in any case at least two or three of my kids would be able to get out of here … but they’ve all stayed here. You see the problem then, when you’re not paid?
Q. When you started to get rid of the coca, what were you hoping for?
A. We were hoping that the government would give us an opportunity to move forward in life, but the government didn’t fulfil [their promise].
Q. And now what are you waiting for?
A. Well now, I hope that it gives me the opportunity … that they pay me or resolve my case, basically, the opportunity for my kids to be able to leave and start the projects they want to do.

On Yolanda’s farm there are a wide variety of species amongst the cacao

Like other participants in the PNIS, Yolanda has been suspended from the programme due to data issues with her SISBEN (The System of Identification of Social Programme Beneficiaries). Officials have also told her that there were inconsistencies in the checks that the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) conducted concerning the removal of her crops. “We’ve sent paperwork to Bogotá out of our own pockets, and nothing”.

Faced with the possibility of suspension, the programme’s officials recommended that various documents be sent as evidence, with the aim of resolving these inconsistencies. In Yolanda’s case, she had to send the coordinates and photos of her farm to prove that there were no longer any illicit crops. She also had to provide certificates from the board of the community council that would accredit her membership to the council and to the rural division. The cost of these procedures needed to sign the paperwork, including transportation, came out of their own pockets. Efforts which, after so many years, leave the situation unresolved. In fact, it’s the opposite: the last notification that others in a similar situation in the rural division received was that they had been expulsed from the programme.

Doña Yolanda contemplates the plot she thought she would cultivate as part of the PNIS

The years go by and the failure to fulfil the agreement is becoming a reality. All this time, Yolanda has been waiting for payments and for the programme to fulfil its other commitments, notably the food security project and various short and long-term projects. This is why she wanted to make her own chicken coop, so that when the chickens from the food security project arrived, there would already be a place to keep them. Yolanda insists that,

“the programme has given me nothing directly, what I do have is because I set about building the chicken coop before the chickens arrived, but they’ve given nothing to me.”

“We wanted to grow palms, but the government didn’t implement the plan; we’ve started on a cacao project which got us fertiliser and seeds and well, here we are”, Yolanda tells us.
“Seeing as the project didn’t happen, I had to find enough money to start growing cacao”
The first fruits of the cacao cultivation

Based on what Yolanda has told us, cacao can be a sustainable crop (depending on the price that it fetches). However, the deterioration of the soil quality of this land following the glyphosate fumigations has led to a bad cacao crop.

Result of glyphosate use on the cacao. Yolanda: “Some of the cacao bushes didn’t bear fruit, and that’s because this area was fumigated a few years ago.”
“With these small cacao fruits, we hope to earn a little money.”


Audio translation
Q. Do you hope that this will change?
A. Of course, we hope that the situation changes, so that all my kids get the chance to make something out of their life. Not just one or two of them, but all of them.
Q. When you signed the agreement and got rid of your coca … after five years what were you hoping for? In other words, after all this time waiting what did you have in mind?
A. I was expecting to have palm trees, that I’d already be harvesting, that I’d be able to tell my kids, say one of them has gone to study in Cali, that I’d tell them I could send them money for their studies, I’d tell them go ahead because we’re alright with what we’re growing.

Yolanda continues to hope for better opportunities for her children, to enable them to move forward in life. Although the circumstances surrounding the breach in the agreement make an optimistic evaluation of the situation impossible, Yolanda reminds us, “we still dream of this, only after dying do you stop dreaming”.

*Name has been changed to protect anonymity.

“If the PNIS had been a reliable programme, there wouldn’t be any more coca.”

In this area of Tumaco, characterised by its coconut production, the programme has seen serious delays. As well as the common problems (delayed payments, suspensions, etc), these beneficiaries never received resources from the food security project, nor were they provided with technical assistance.

In 2019, we met Alirio*, one of the leaders of this community council, who explained to us the very difficult situation the people in his rural division are living in.

Deposit of coconut husks

The people who live in this area of Tumaco have traditionally cultivated coconuts and cacao. They hoped with the programme to be able to support and strengthen this production, and create sales agreements for their produce. “Coconuts are very profitable”, Alirio tells us.


Audio translation
Question: What did you think you’d be able to grow with the help of the programme?
Alirio: Here, more than anything people are focused on coconuts and cacao. But mainly coconuts. If you pick anyone here and ask them, “What do you want to grow here?”, the first thing they’ll say is coconuts. Because coconut is a very profitable crop. Even though it takes five or six years to get up and running, it’s a profitable crop.

As part of our visit that day, we saw non-contaminated water sources, which are used by the inhabitants of this rural division for drinking water and for work purposes. However, there isn’t an aqueduct in the region. “As part of the programme there was talk of channelling water, but it hasn’t been brought up since”.

The water comes from a mountain spring

According to the programme’s outline, the topics of infrastructure in rural areas and access to public services were to be outlined in plans known as PISDA (Comprehensive Substitution and Alternative Development Plans). During its implementation, the PISDA were absorbed by the PDET (Territorially Focused Development Plans). When we asked Alirio about PDET, he told us angrily that “the PDET didn’t consult us, they proposed a health centre and they only spoke to the mayor’s office”.

Drying process for cacao seeds

“These villages have always wanted to substitute coca”,


In 2013, there was an opportunity to take part in a substitution programme. Alirio explains that the great majority of families were set on substituting coca, but the programme never reached this area because it was a red zone.

“So you can imagine how willing people were to sign up to the programme, and that the government said no […] if the programme, the PNIS, had been a reliable programme, there wouldn’t be any more coca”

In recent years, crops have been affected by the aerial sprayings of glyphosate
A custard apple from a tree that was sprayed with glyphosate more than 5 years ago

Although some time has passed since the last fumigation, the inhabitants here are suffering from the consequences of glyphosate use: deterioration to their lands and to crops from their subsistence farms. Therefore, in light of the Duque administration’s insistence upon the continuation of fumigations, Aliria makes a convincing affirmation: “If they (the government) fumigate today, people will start planting the very next day”.


Audio translation
“Fumigation has done a lot of harm here. There was a time when people here were left with nothing, no bananas, no cacao, no coconut, no cassava, no nothing, because fumigation did away with all that. So, at least now, the main objective of the strike was to denounce glyphosate fumigation. People don’t want to know about the consequences caused by the fumigation. The government has to understand that people are willing to do the substitution, because the alternative is: if they fumigate today, people will start growing [coca] the very next day.”

Difficult trails are used on a daily basis to get to the cacao crops

Alirio’s rural division and the other territories in Tumaco have the potential to transform their economies. Not only coconuts, but cacao could also become a good alternative.


Audio translation
“These are all cacao farms, there is a lot of cacao here, although people … people are disillusioned more than anything by the prices, they’re very unstable here in Tumaco. This is also something that needs to be addressed.

During this visit we discovered a variety of fruits and native crops —ciruelos, custard apples, the aromatic plants chiyangua and chirarán— that lack the means of their transportation and commercialisation and end up rotting on the farmers’ land.  

Due to difficult transport conditions ciruelas cannot be commercialised

Faced with the failure to fulfil the PNIS agreement, the families linked to the programme have had to turn to their own resources. “Some get a daily wage, others farm coconuts, but the coconut crops are dying, here people are really worried”, Alirio tells us. It has been over two years since the families eradicated their coca, and like the title of this feature, they are all asking the government: “and now what?”

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity

“We managed to grow this cacao ourselves, all thanks to our hard work and not the government.”

“We went into the substitution programme to eradicate coca, and because you need money to invest in a project here. We needed help, my kids are in secondary school and I haven’t got the means”, are the first words of José, a PNIS beneficiary who lives in a community council in Tumaco. “Those of us here have no way out, the cassava rots on the farm, we aren’t commercialised, nobody buys from us”, explains Emilse*, who is also part of the PNIS and claims that the programme hasn’t fulfilled its promises.


Audio translation
We wanted to do other things. We didn’t want to work with coca anymore. We wanted things like cacao, or to grow oranges for example, in other words, something productive, to get out of this trade. Something else … because this is bad [illicit], it’s harmful to the body. That’s why we wanted to grow something productive.

José* on his way to the cacao crops

Some time ago, José managed to cultivate a hectare of coca. But he was unlucky: the army came and eradicated it. “I only got two harvests out of it; I was on the farm when the army came”.

Emilse among her cacao crops grown with their own resources

Though Emilse has never grown coca, she recognises the impact this crop has had in the region. Before, she says, people lived from their produce and grew cacao, cassava, chilma, chontaduro (peach palm), plantain and wood. José adds: “before, there was no illicit production, it only started a few years ago”.

The worst thing about coca, they tell us, were the fumigations. The sprayings destroyed everything, the crops, the animals and people’s health, as Emilse recalls in the following segment.


Audio translation
When they did the aerial fumigations, they destroyed everything that we’d grown.
-They flew overhead?
Yes. The air looked so green. They killed everything, the land began to crack. We were left without any food. They killed everything.

Faced with a crisis situation caused by the forced eradications, they both trusted the promises put forward by the programme, hoping for a better future. “Food assistance never got here, nothing ever arrived”, José says. Emilse tells us that people were expecting much more from the programme, but that, in the end, it’s been terrible for the communities, “we’ve been treated unfairly”.


Audio translation
Well, we were hoping to receive some support to start working in cacao, to grow oranges, mandarins, lemons, cassava. But the way I see it, with what little knowledge I have, what they’ve done has been bad … you realise how long this has gone on?

When faced with the systematic failure to fulfil the agreement, the community didn’t sit around doing nothing. José and Emilse tell us that in their rural division, people were tired of waiting for PNIS resources and had started to sow cacao on their own initiative. This can be seen in the photographs.

A coca bush in poor condition, in the middle of various cacao trees
A cacao fruit, a few weeks away from being harvestable
Step one of the cacao drying process
After the failures of the PNIS, many farmers in the division have been trying to commercialise their cacao
Dried cacao in the hands of its cultivator


Audio translation
[…] And this is from our hard work, because we don’t want to work with something illicit. Seeing as they’re not helping us, we’ve been doing this and working by ourselves.

As well as this, Emilse says that she would like to resume one of her greatest pleasures, here in the area: baking. Years ago, she worked in San Lorenzo, Ecuador, making sweets and working with icing. But this type of work is very difficult in an area like Tumaco, where there isn’t a stable supply of electricity. “We lose power every two hours”. Having electricity would give people in the rural division the opportunity to set up their own businesses, to set their projects in motion and to distance themselves from the illicit economy. Electricity would give them the chance to make the transition towards legality.


Audio translation
Yes, I would like the project to continue, but so long as they help us to move forward. In order for us, for example, us women and men to be able to work at home, doing other work, setting up little businesses, like I told you about with baking, then people would come and buy things, and so I wouldn’t need to work in illicit things.

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity

Fish farming project led by women – Guayacana

“Tilapia could be an option, if the government invests money into it.”

We went to Lorenzo’s* farm, situated in one of the rural divisions along the Tumaco-Pasto highway. Lorenzo came to Tumaco decades ago; he’s from a municipality in the Nariño Mountains. Here, in the rural division, he was one of the leaders who enthusiastically promoted the PNIS and has tirelessly accompanied families in the “calvary” that the programme has become, a problem that he has first-hand experience with, being a PNIS beneficiary himself. 

In this rural division, the programme has seen the same delays that beset other beneficiaries in the municipality and indeed all around the country. Delayed payments, lack of supplies and resources from the food security projects. And now, families are still awaiting the implementation of short and long-term projects, for which 19 million pesos were to be invested.

A couple of years ago, Lorenzo started a fish farming project on his farm, with the help of various institutions and companies. He started with small pools: now he already has more than three on his farm. Fish farming could be an alternative to coca, but like other cultivation projects it needs investment and technical assistance. “Fish pellets are very expensive,” Lorenzo tells us.

A tilapia that weighs less than 1kg from one of the pools.

With the substitution programme, Lorenzo hopes to strengthen the infrastructure of the pools: to buy geomembranes and to build a fish farming pond for all the families linked to the PNIS who, as part of their food security project, chose tilapia as their resource. Nonetheless, this hope has now been cut short: recently the programme has put forward the obstacle that their land is part of a forest reserve zone, which would restrict fish farming activities. Since the beginning of the Territorial Renewal Agency (ART), it has been insisted that only environmental projects could be an alternative, without considering other options of land-use planning such as the Peasant Farmer Reserve Area (ZRC), a consideration which, amongst other things, was requested by the farmers of these rural divisions and has been expressed by the Regional Transformation Action Plans (PATR) in the pacific and border regions of Nariño.

Despite all the obstacles and vicissitudes that arise day after day in the implementation of the programme, Lorenzo continues to hope to be able to export his fish one day. He insists that “I dream of my business”.

Audio translation
I dream of having my own fish farming business and of one day being able to export. That’s the way to be sustainable, no? It’d be more or less like what we have now, with pools like those large ones down there. But we’re far from it. I wanted to start a project with the Fondo Emprender (Colombian provider of funds for businesses) but it’s complicated… . But these projects are good, because for six like these I get 170 million. If you fulfil certain targets, you don’t pay for them, they give them to you. What’s missing is money. I dream of my business.

Four women began this fish farming project

As a leader, Lorenzo motivated various families to opt for fish farming in their food security project for the PNIS. We met four PNIS beneficiaries the day that we visited Lorenzo’s farm. We went to their pools to find out about their tilapia project.

A farmer feeding the smaller fish at the farm

One of the women that we spoke with is Tania*, she tells us that despite the insufficiencies of the programme, it wasn’t going so badly for them because they had chosen tilapia. For the other participants who chose pigs or chickens, it has not been good, in part because they have not been able to guarantee the commercialisation of their product. At least they have been able to sell their fish, but they are concerned about a number of things: the programme only provides feed for a limited period of time, after which they will have to take on the cost of the fish pellets. They also told us that they needed to expand their business to be able to grow and to ensure the sustainability of the project. Nonetheless, given that short and long-term projects have not begun to be developed, they fear that their project will grind to a halt.

The land is not ours, we have to rent it and install bridges so that we can install the pools.”

“Men are part of the project, but it’s been the women who have led it”, says Valeria* proudly, one of the women we met that afternoon.

A short break after feeding the fish and going around the pools

Lorenzo, Tania, Valeria and the other people involved in the fish farming project are all willing to continue a legal business. It is one of the few food security projects, practically the only one that we know of in Tumaco, that is moderately profitable. The substitution agreement that these men and women farmers have adhered to should be reason enough for the state to invest in these small projects, and like Lorenzo says, so that one day these families can have their own businesses.

*Names changed to protect anonymity

Myanmar datasets

Drugs & (dis)order is making as much of its anonymised research data as possible accessible to other researchers and users, via the UK Data Service. Details of how to access the data are on the UKDS landing page for each dataset.

Four datasets from the Myanmar research are: