The cultivation and consumption of coca is part of the daily lives in many cultures across the Andean and Amazonian region in South America. Because of the medicinal, nutritional, spiritual, social and cultural qualities, coca is considered to be a sacred plant. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions on the coca plant, upheld by outsiders of South America. Because of this stigma, the coca plant is treated as a dangerous plant that needs to be destroyed. But coca has so much potential. For a fair and sustainable policy, and human based approach, Fair Trade Coke aims to restore the sovereignty over the coca plant to South Americans.
From the communities of Sierra Nevada in Colombia, to the Quechua in Peru, the Yungas in Bolivia and the northwest of Argentina, the coca plant is valued for her medicinal, nutritional, spiritual, social and cultural qualities. Amongst others, coca works as a stimulant, enables energy and focus but also helps combating altitudes diseases; it functions as a local anesthetic and suppresses menstrual pain. Apart from coca having nutritional and medicinal properties, there is also a spiritual value of coca. For Yunga communities, a northern region in Bolivia where coca has been cultivated for thousands of years, dried coca leaves are presented at every communal meeting. Coca is believed to enable introspection, focus and an open attitude for listening. Therefore, coca facilitates fruitful meetings and is essential in resolving conflicts. Amongst the Tubu in Colombian Amazonia, coca ‘despierta a la memoria’, awakens a profound level of consciousness. As for Koguis in the Sierra Nevada, Colombia, the feminine is seen as a natural source of wisdom. Women have a connection with mother earth and with the water, where all life comes from. Men lack this specific knowledge women naturally have. To obtain that wisdom, men chew coca leaves (Adelaars, 2019).
Unfortunately, the cultivation and consumption of coca is illegal. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 classified the coca leaf, along with cocaine, to List 1 prohibited substances. This classification was imposed by the USA and was not based on a proper pharmaceutical research that took the cultural significance of the coca leaf for the Andean region into account. Today’s stigma of coca is also based on a conditioned misconception that originated in the colonial era. When Spanish colonizers arrived in South America, they viewed indigenous people as inferior, along with their practice of chewing coca leaves. In their eyes it was something beastly (Roncken, 1994).