Wars have always been an integral part of our growing economy. With time, the definition of war too progressed. Now wars aren’t battled with arms and ammunitions like the two world wars. In the 21 st Century, the wars have evolved as well.
This modern era is heading towards a new war, the war against drugs which has plagued many societies. Drug consumption has been responsible for thousands of deaths each year and it disrupts the formal economy of the country. But it would be interesting to know that there is one small country in South America which stands in favor of the consumption of cocaine drug.
The Colombian people are taking the risk to cultivate coca plant which has become an incredibly important plant for the country’s agricultural economy. The bright green coca plant is found mainly in Southern Colombia at the cusp of Colombia’s vast Amazon rainforest.
Coca is harvested by local farmers, shredded, soaked in gasoline, sulfuric acid and other chemicals and then cooked down into a paste. This coca paste is then sold to drug traffickers who use a series of chemical processes to convert this paste into cocaine powder which is then shipped globally. Colombia has been the largest producer of coca which is the main ingredient for cocaine drug since 1991.
This illicit drug industry has been remarkably impacting the Colombian economy. But mainly, this war isn’t about the cocaine or drug trafficking rather it largely impacts the lives of thousand farmers and their families who cultivates it and is the only source of their livelihood. These families are stuck in the midst of the Colombian war against cocaine.
But then it raises a question as to why these farmers are indulged in planting this illegal crop which is harming millions of lives worldwide. Why don’t farmers switch to growing other food crops? Cultivating coca is not only illegal but also economically more viable and profitable to grow than growing any other food crop like pineapples, bananas, breadfruits as one pound of coca is sold for more than one ton of corn. Lack of Governmental support and absence of connectivity of rural areas to crop market have flattened the farmer’s efforts to shift towards alternate crop cultivation.
After 2015, the Colombian government also implemented the crop substitution program to eradicate the problem of increased cocaine cultivation. Under this program, the government promised to pay one million pesos per month, (which is approximately equivalent to 327 dollars) to any farmer who would uproot the illegal coca crop on his own and would indulge in legal farming. But resentfully it never worked, because coca cultivation has always been the most marketable and high-priced commodity that the criminal groups have engaged in, thus coca market never goes down.
The ton of fresh coca leaf needed to make a kilo of cocaine costs a few hundred dollars in Colombia. But after it is turned into powder, a kilo can fetch 30,000 dollars in US and finally when cocaine enters the streets its value can exceed 100,000 dollars. The value of coca increases drastically after it is refined and moved towards consumer market.Apart from affecting the approximately 68,000 families which depend on coca cultivation for their livelihood, cocaine war is also one of the biggest factors fueling corruption in Colombia.
Since the cocaine industry is part of the underground economy, the revenues from production are not directly accounted for in the calculation of the country’s GDP. Nevertheless, since a portion of revenues are laundered, banked or directly reinvested in other sectors or businesses like stock market, real estate or construction these revenues eventually show up in the national accounts.
Over the years drug money has also been used to finance political campaign and set up private armies in the service of foreign and domestic capital accumulation. This has resulted into insecurity, social instability and also drives mass displacements out of the countryside into urban centers. The rising production of cocaine in America and United states being it’s one of the biggest markets has alarmed the American government. Over the course, they have spent nearly 10 billion dollars to attack the illicit drug production in Colombia.
American President Donald Trump threatened South American officials to decertify them as a partner against drug war. Thus Colombian officials have always feared that the boom in cocaine production pose a constant threat to the country’s fragile peace process. It would be unjustified to say that the country’s officials have remained unarmed for this war since for decades Colombian Government has been trying to curb this problem of coca production, though none of their efforts could show promising results. Over the years they have tried two main tactics for abolishing coca cultivation. The first entails flying over the coca fields, which are the most visible part of cocaine industry and thus the easiest to target, and blanketing the whole area with this plant killing chemicals.
But the problem with this tactic is that spraying the area with this plant killing chemical not only affects the coca fields but also other food crops and rainforests that surround the areas which happens to be the most bio diverse areas in the country. The UN and WHO found out that these chemicals are potentially a cause of cancer among the local residents. Therefore in 2015, the Colombian Government suspended the chemical dumping strategy. The second tactic involved sending anti- narcotic troops to manually destroy the crops by uprooting it or burning the sheds where the harvest is being processed. But this tactic also failed because its quiet challenging to locate coca fields in remote areas of Guaviare in the absence of proper road connectivity.
Despite of these devastating effects of cocaine on the Colombian economy the officials have not been able to cease this war. Coca cultivation is becoming a significant reason in bringing down the Colombian economy. The only long lasting solution will come when the government would take steps in connecting these communities with the rest of the country, so that legal economies can take root in these areas. That is going to take huge amount of money and time but until the government participates in this long, slow work, farmers will continue finding a way to be indulged in an economy that pays.
Written by Megha Mittal for The Connectere