Cocaine use is destroying the Amazon
May 26, 2008
The "Shared Responsibility" drive, a joint initiative by the British and Colombian governments, features a collection of photographs showing the destruction of rainforest for coca plantations, the raw ingredient used for cocaine production.
Cocaine production destroys rainforest
In a speech in London marketing the launch of the initiative, Francisco Santos, Colombia's Vice President, said that every gram of cocaine consumed "destroys four square meters of rainforest."
Deforestation in the Colombian Amazon - photo by Rhett A. Butler.
"The real price of cocaine is not just among communities and on the streets here, but in communities and on the streets of Colombia," British Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Coca eradication also takes a toll
Anti-drugs efforts have also harmed ecologically sensitive areas in Colombia.
Colombia has long battled a cocaine-fueled insurgency in its remote regions. In an effort to destroy the rebels' chief source of income, the Colombian government has targeted coca fields with aerial spraying of herbicides. Coca provides the key ingredient in cocaine and its eradication is a fundamental part of the US-backed war on drugs.
Much of Colombia's coca is grown by poor farmers because it generates more income than any other crop. Typically farmers convert the plant into coca paste and sell it to groups -- including paramilitaries and Colombian rebels -- who refine it into cocaine and export the narcotic to markets like the United States, Europe, and increasingly, Brazil.
Drug eradification efforts have focused on aerial fumigation programs where herbicides (a mixture that includes Monsanto Corporation's Roundup and Cosmo-Flux 411F) are dropped by crop-duster planes on suspect vegetation. Since the concoction is a non-selective herbicide, surrounding vegetation -- including subsistence crops and native plants -- are killed as well. Environmentalists, indigenous rights' groups, and even the government of Ecuador have complained that widespread spraying of herbicides could pose health threats to locals as well as damage to the environment. Local reports suggest that farmers often replant coca seedlings soon after spraying, making the whole exercise somewhat futile.
In 2005 a report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy showed that a massive aerial spraying offensive in 2004 failed to reduce the area of coca under cultivation in Colombia. Drug eradification efforts in the country have lately resulted in the shifting of large-scale coca production into the extensive rainforests of Chocó state, a biodiversity hotspot in northwest Colombia.