Saturday, March 3, 2018

Why Coca Erradication is Doomed

Sweaty coca erradicators reduce the supply of the leaf
 - and raise its market value.
How to convince farmers to give up coca leaf for legal, healthy crops?

These days, government officials and newspaper columnists are debating over the best combination of incentives - such as payments and help with new crops - and punishments, such as forced erradication and prison, if farmers don't agree to voluntarily erradicate their drug crops.

At best, the strategy has huge weaknesses: Coca leaf is a good crop economically, because it requires little care, brings reliable income and can be stored and transported easily after harvest. And in many coca-growing regions the government has little presence, whereas the drug cartels, who encourage or even force farmers to plant coca leaf, are very active.

But, give the government the benefit of the doubt: Perhaps this time voluntary erradication WILL work.
Colombia's coca leaf crop
has boomed in recent years.
(Graph from El Tiempo)

The trouble is, it's all futile, anyway.

After all, there are lots of poor people in Colombia, especially poor farmers. Every time a farmer somewhere gives up growing coca leaf, whether voluntarily or not, that reduces the supply and raises the price. In response, you can be sure that some impoverished farmer somewhere else, if not in Colombia, then in Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela or Africa or Asia, will chop down a patch of jungle and plant the leaf.

It's not that coca leaf farmers are bad people, who want to do harm. I've met some of them. To them, cocaine's harm is a distant, vague concept. And, they say reasonably enough, it's the fault of the consumers who decide to drug themselves.

Colombia's coca leaf crop increase has coincided
with a reduction in acres erradicated.
Chart from Adam Isacson.
Meanwhile, the farmers' needs to feed and clothe their children, to buy schoolbooks and medicines, are immediate and urgent. How many of us would act differently?

The more succesful strategy would be to reduce demand, by helping addicts and decriminalizing drugs, which would reduce their damage in every sense and deprive criminals of a huge income.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Stuart Oswald said...

Please, don't distort the facts. It's been working very well and has brought many players on the negative side of Colombia to heel. The issue now is that the increase was the price Santos brought upon the country for his disastrous 'peace' deal. It was shameful appeasement to sweeten the FARC. I think this point has been made to you a number of times already. Except you try to pawn it off as some sort of a failure to something that is actually very much an evident success.

Miguel said...

Coca acreage more than doubling! Some kind of success!