What is Narco-Deforestation and How is it Destroying Forests?

While Central America’s forests are beginning to look like the aftermath of a military scorched earth policy, the military isn’t behind the forest destruction. The war on drugs has a new frontier. A new trend called narco-deforestation is destroying  Central America’s forests.

Making Way for Drug Trafficking

Drug traffickers are illegally degrading Central America’s forests by building their own roads and aviation landing strips. These new routes of transportation make it easier to transport drugs from Mexico to South America, and vice-versa.

As reported in The Guardian, Kendra McSweeney, the co-author of “Drug Policy as Conservation Policy: Narco-Deforestation” explains,  ”These protected ecological zones have become the hub for South American cocaine.”

In Honduras, even a Unesco world heritage site — Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve — was destroyed. While narco-deforestation is a major factor in the deforestation, illegal logging practices preceded the new narco trend and continues to play a large role in the destruction of Central America’s biodiversity. According to Cultural Survival, the logging industry makes up “20 percent of the total volume removed from tropical forests, but only a third is exported.”  And this logging activity is documented and legal, so you can imagine that this percentage is higher when illegal logging activities come into the picture.

The Cockroach Effect

While Mexico serves as a type of nucleus for drug activity, authorities have started cracking down on the illegal activities. These new challenges and crackdowns have pushed the activity down south and resulted in the efecto cucaracha, or the cockroach effect. Similar to a cockroach’s “survival instincts,” if it’s driven away from one home, it will find another — and that just happens to be Central America. Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras have been particularly targeted by the cockroach effect.

It’s not a coincidence. For example, as reported in The Guardian, when former Mexican president Felipe Calderón took a more proactive approach to cracking down on drugs in Mexico, Guatemala’s deforestation increased between 5 and 10 percent.

The Costs of Deforestation

What are we losing when the forest is destroyed? Cultural Survival lists some of the costs of deforestation:

– Wood

– Agriculture

– Food

– Medicine

– Genetic diversity

– Climate

– Habitat (human and animal)

– Culture

More Ways Narco-Deforestation Destroys Forests

If you didn’t think it could get worse, then think again. Drug traffickers are taking their illegal profits and investing in cattle ranches and palm oil plants. These are two industries that work to destroy Central America’s forests more.

According to Cultural Survival, deforestation for pasture “‘is probably the single largest cause of deforestation in Latin America and to a large degree in Africa.’” Cattle ranching single-handedly accounts for 38 percent of forest loss and degradation in Latin America. And Care2 members, you are aware about how bad palm oil (and palm oil waste for that matter) are bad news for the planet, the animals and the people.

How is This Happening?

As reported in The Guardian, it boils down to “corruption among local government officials and weak public institutions for enabling this to happen.” There also aren’t enough forest guards (with the right equipment and know-how) to stop this from happening.

Another victim of narco-deforestation are the indigenous communities living in the forests. As reported in The Guardian, another co-author of the report, Matthew Taylor, explains, “The Indians are either chased off their land, or recruited by the drug traffickers – voluntarily or by force – to fell the trees or work on their farms.” Without indigenous communities’ commitment to protecting the forests and wisdom of the forests, conservation efforts in the region will be greatly compromised.


Photo Credit: Leonora Enking


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Mark Donners
Mark Donner2 years ago

There is no solution to the monsters of the human race that keep getting bred for except human extinction. That I'm afraid is unavoidable and humans have ensured it is coming. I don't think the human race has 300 years left.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson2 years ago

Where are the petitions to sign against these evil doers.

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla2 years ago


mari s.
Mari S.2 years ago

Horrible and frightening!

There MUST be a groundswell to eliminate permanently these druggies!

It's so unconscionable -- why is society allowing this?

Ernest Roth
Ernest R.2 years ago

@ Dian D,"in the USA, today we only have 1/4 the forests" Yes, and both the government and the population are up in arms about it, right ? The scientists of the world have just released the results of their investigation concluding that climate is real, and definitely caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and an extreme danger to life on earth that must be addressed IMMEDIATELY ! ! Of course everyone is alarmed and we all realize that we must take steps to avert catastrophy NOW. I turn on my TV to hear the discussions on this most important issue on this planet EVER ! And I hear the latest hockey and basketball results, and the multinational needle in a haystack search for a missing airplane. As the co-pilot said, "Good night".

sandra g.
sandra g.2 years ago

Ignorance summed with ambition gets results like this .....we need Divines' mercy.

Robert B.
Robert B.2 years ago

Without customers, there would be no drug trade. Every person who buys illegal drugs is currently directly responsible. That said, I think drugs should be legalized, controlled and taxed with the money collected to fund drug awareness, education and rehabilitation. Even if drugs were legal, it is still stupid to abuse them.

Ann Breeden
Ann Breeden2 years ago

Sadly noted.

NO MORE FWD to Ana Marija
ANA MARIJA R.2 years ago

well said, Ben O. ... sadly i agree with you:(