The War on Drugs policy is focused on the production side. One of its means is to destroy coca plantations in countries where coca is cultivated. This 30 year old policy has proven to be ineffective. Which is why we should look at constructive alternatives. Solutions that do not focus on the dangers of coca, but looks at the possibilities of the plant.
The United Nations Single Convention on Narcotics in 1961 has listed coca in Schedule 1 forbidden drug, meaning that it is categorized in the same list as cocaine. This decision was imposed by the United States of America, without any solid scientific research about its possibilities or potential dangers. Ever since, the cultivation and export of coca is universally forbidden. It is the birth of the inseparable link of coca and cocaine.
Also, the current stigma of coca is based on a conditioned misconception originated from the colonial era. When Spanish colonizers arrived in the Americas, they perceived the chewing of coca leaves as a savage ritual belonging to the inferior native people. In their eyes, the chewing of coca leaves was something animals would do. The stigma and the criminalization of coca withhold us to explore other possibilities of the coca leaf.
Which is sad, because coca is so much more than the source for cocaine. Coca is a plant which grows in the Andes and is being consumed for centuries by indigenous people in Bolivia, Pery, Colombia, Ecuador and Argentina. It contains similar psychoactive substances as coffee and tea do; it is a mild stimulant that enhances energy and concentration and is very nutritional. It also has many medicinal values, it tackles stomach problems, headaches and altitude disease and regulates blood pressure and is an anesthetic, amongst others.
In an economical perspective, coca is really beneficial as well. It can be harvested three times a year, which is compared to other crops very lucrative. Coca is not as vulnerable as for example pineapple and banana, meaning that it does not expire as fast and long distances to the market do not pose a threat. For these economic benefits the temptation of cultivating coca will always exist. Instead of cultivating coca for cocaine, we should focus on a market of coca products.
The destruction of coca plantations is carried out by military forces. This leads to violent confrontations between militaries and coca farmers and abrupt loss of livelihoods of mainly marginalized, poor people. For economic reasons these people are forced to migrate. Except for social detriments, the current focus on the destruction of coca plantations also has irreversible ecological effects.
For one gram of cocaine, 400 grams of coca leaves is needed. The production of cocaine requires a lot of farmland. There are other threats to the world’s most important ecosystems thanks to the current policy. After the destruction of coca plantations coca farmers are forced to move elsewhere. For their new settlements new land is needed for their survival. Deforestation is used as a means to clear the land. For the destruction of coca plantations chemicals like glyphosate are used. These chemicals intoxicate the soil, which is a threat to the health of the people and blocks the growth of other crops.
An international market of coca products can prevent that people cultivate for cocaine. As the export of coca products is prohibited, coca cultivating countries miss out on a unique international market. One Bolivian economist, Roberto Laserna, researched that if 5% of the entire world market would drink coca tea, the current surface of coca cultivated land would not be sufficient.
Chewing coca may not suit in the lifestyles of Western societies. What we could do, is look at possibilities that are easier to integrate in our culture. Unlike people think, coca is not a dangerous or addictive substance. On the contrary, coca is very nutritious. Coca contains a high concentration of vitamin A, B2, phosphor and iron. As mentioned before, coca is a mild stimulant that provides for an energy kick and a good focus for work and study. Also, coca can be manufactured into food products like tea, flour, toothpaste, candy and cookies.
These are a few examples of products that demonstrate that coca is not just the source for cocaine. Opening up an international market of coca products offers a constructive, humane and sustainable alternative for the current destruction-focused War on Drugs policy. As long there is no solution or better alternatives for poverty, coca cultivation for cocaine will always be there. Coca products however, offer a sustainable economic opportunity for farmers. Therefore, we -as consumers of a global market-, should open up for coca products. This way, we can enjoy the perks of coca leaves, while coca farmers can enjoy a steady income. So, let’s involve coca farmers in the international market!