Supply-side harm reduction strategies: Bolivia's experiment with social control

Int J Drug Policy. 2012 Nov;23(6):488-94. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2012.06.004. Epub 2012 Jul 18.


Harm reduction approaches to drug control have almost exclusively focussed on consumers in northern countries. This article supports recent analysis that indicates that such policies also hold relevance for producer countries by drawing on recent policy innovations in Bolivia. When Evo Morales, the president of the national coca grower confederation, was elected the country's first indigenous president in 2005, he promised to fundamentally change 25 years of the U.S.-funded "drug war" that had generated repeated human rights violations. The new policy, which implicitly incorporates harm reduction principles combined with respect for human rights, recognizes coca leaf's traditional use and cultural importance and relies on vigorous local organizations to implement a community-based programme called social control. Results to date indicate that Bolivia's social control experience has reduced violence in coca growing communities, ensured small farmers a subsistence income from coca and increased sovereignty, while making a modest contribution to containing expansion of coca cultivation. The programme has registered 50,000 farmers who are allowed to cultivate limited quantities of coca to supply traditional users and helped them gain secure title to their land. This registration is combined with satellite surveillance to guarantee that farmers do not exceed limits established by law. To date, the programme's reach is incomplete and coca is still diverted to the drug trade. Nonetheless, the approach may offer lessons for other drug producer countries, particularly where strong socio-political organizations are found in combination with closeknit communities holding shared cultural values.

MeSH terms

  • Bolivia
  • Coca / growth & development*
  • Cocaine / supply & distribution*
  • Commerce* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Crime / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Crime / prevention & control*
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Drug and Narcotic Control* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Government Regulation
  • Harm Reduction*
  • Human Rights
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Illicit Drugs / supply & distribution*
  • Law Enforcement
  • Program Evaluation
  • Public Policy* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Cocaine