Eradication causes deforestation

The eradication of coca plantations

Colombia started to eradicate marihuana  in 1970 and in 1994 it expanded in destroying coca plantations. Backed by the USA, ‘Plan Colombia’ entailed among others that it would destroy plantations by plane, through the pesticide glyphosate. Glyphosate is a product of the USA multinational Monsanto.

The destruction of coca plantations would lead to a reduction of coca production, which also would decrease the amount of deforestation. In fact, the destruction of coca plantations has led to an increase of deforestation and has poisoned the soil. Not only has the eradication an ecological impact, it also has social consequences. Because of their destructed farm land coca farmers are forced to move elsewhere. As coca cultivation is done by marginalized groups, Afro-Colombian and indigenous people are mostly the victim.

The effects of eradication policies:

The aim of eradication policies is by reducing the coca production the price of cocaine would increase and therefore, the demand for cocaine would decrease. However, in reality the opposite has been proven:

  1. Eradication causes displacement:  Eradication had no effect on reducing cocaine production. It has moved to other regions. This phenomena is called the balloon effect. In Colombia for example, the coca cultivation moved to Pacific area’s, which are one of the most biodiverse hotspots of the world. In 2001 1982 ha of natural forest was converted to coca plantations. In 2008 it was 8166 ha. In Nariño 13,000 ha natural forest is converted to coca, of which 22% was tropical rainforest.
  2. The production of coca is more efficient: nowadays coca farmers choose a crop with a higher concentration of coca and cocaine producers have developed better purification methods.
  3. The price of cocaine dropped, the demand increased:  The value of cocaine between 1990 and 2004 has dropped with 50%.
  4. The global demand for cocaine has spread.

The destruction of coca plantations did not result in a decreased amount of cocaine, it has led to displacement. Through this so-called balloon-effect new settlements of the coca farmers takes places in valuable forests. These regions are important in the conservation of the biodiversity and ecosystems. Thus, destruction has led to increased deforestation.

Poverty and bad conditions for economic development are driving forces for people to cultivate coca for cocaine. Coca is a lucrative crop. Unlike legal crops like bananas, pineapples or peppers, coca is less vulnerable. It can be harvested three times a year and can be conserved for a longer period. In isolated area’s or area’s that have due to a bad infrastructure a long distance to the market, it is financially more profitable and less risky to cultivate coca. Especially when a small farmer needs to compete with big multinationals. It costs 4-24 times less and provides 18-58% more employment opportunities. For example, the cultivation of coca costed 230 US dollar per hectare and was able to employ 280 fulltime laborers. Bananas and peppers costed respectively 995 and 5,435 US dollar and was able to employ 117 and 215 persons. Other motivations that discourage the cultivation of legal crops is that a legal crop demands a higher quality and in the same time a lower price and has a stronger competition with other countries. For example, due to low international prices of tin, the Bolivian tin industry fell drastically. Many miners were forced to move elsewhere and migrated to Chapare, where they could get income from coca cultivation.

Farmers who cultivate coca for cocaine get a bigger income than farmers of legal crops. Respectively they earn an average of 5,195 US dollar a year, across from 2,413 US dollar. Despite their bigger earnings, the living conditions of coca farmers are more threatening: coca farmers live in isolated area’s with a bad infrastructure and neglected social conditions, like lack of access to education and the market.