Researchers in the United States and Colombia have identified a relationship between illegal coca farming and destruction of Colombia’s forests. The area the researchers studied is in the south of the country, which is rural and lightly populated.
“Coca cultivation was at least as damaging to these forests as all the other factors combined — and I mean mining, oil drilling, logging, cattle ranching, biofuels, and food crops,” said Ms. Davalos from SUNY Stonybrook. (Source: Chemical and Engineering News)
Between 2002 and 2007, 14,000 square kilometers of forest was lost in the southern part of the country, which reportedly is about the size of Connecticut. Areas near new plots of coca plants were where some of the most losses of forest took place. The actual amount of forest converted to coca fields was 890 square kilometers. So most of the forest destruction took place next to the coca plots, due to increased foot traffic, grazing of animals, and planting other crops.
If you are wondering what is driving such determined efforts to grow coca for cocaine, even 11 years ago it was reported the annual revenues from cocaine sold in the United States were $35 billion. Also, the U.S. military aid to Colombia to stop the coca production doesn’t seem to have worked. In 2009, Colombia coca farmers cultivated 103,000 tons of coca leaf.
In 2005, it was reported 90 percent of the cocaine used in the United States comes from Colombia. Most of the whole world’s cocaine comes from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Peru is working towards shifting some of its coca production to chocolate. Colombia is also a great source of cocoa beans, so perhaps there is some hope such a transition could take place there also.
The U.S. federal government started spraying herbicides on the coca plants from crop duster airplanes, over hundreds of thousands of acres. The spraying did kill many coca plants, but it also helped generate a mutated coca plant that is resistant to the main herbicide, called Round Up. So coca farmers simply switched to the new strain and that was grown prolifically. One thing the researchers identified that could reduce coca production was adding more forested areas to national parks, as the coca farmers have a preference to control their coca production by only planting it on land they can own and possess the title. So if national parks are expanded and patrolled more frequently, perhaps coca farming will be reduced. On the demand side, if consumers knew they were part of large-scale forest destruction, maybe they would think twice about using cocaine.
Image Credit: Rockfan