Alternatives to the war on drugs
Andean peoples in Latin America have consumed coca leaves for 4,000 years and the crop is cultivated by an estimated 247,000 families in remote parts of Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. Traditionally they are chewed or made into tea, acting as a mild stimulant and easing altitude sickness. But in the more recent past, excess coca has been refined into cocaine and its illegal cultivation, processing and trafficking has become a crime and security issue for these countries.
In Peru, government policy is to carry out a ‘war on drugs’, incarcerating farmers and traffickers and carrying out crop eradication. This policy has criminalised some of the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society and crushed local economies. What’s more it has little effect on the amount of coca being cultivated since farmers re-plant crops in new areas.
Between 2006 and 2019, the Morales administration in neighbouring Bolivia adopted a new model for dealing with the problem. It promoted coca leaf industrialisation for legal uses; reduced drug-related prison inmates by 40%; gained international approval for traditional uses of the coca leaf in Bolivia; and limited excess production of the leaf by empowering local communities to impose limits.
Working with coca farmers, agricultural unions, government officials, NGOs, multi-lateral organisations, journalists, and academics, geographer Dr Thomas Grisaffi is leading research to analyse the coca trade in depth. The teams, co-led by researchers at Pontifical Catholic University in Peru and the Andean Information Network in Bolivia, want to discover the economic motivations for getting involved in illicit crop production and processing, investigate how women participate in drug production and trafficking and what policies could address their needs, and involve and engage union leaders and locals in identifying best practice and designing initiatives.
The team has a track record of advising governments and presenting findings to the EU and UN. Building on this, the overall aim is to provide solid evidence for future policies that promote effective and equitable economic development in regions affected by illegal coca growing and the cocaine trade. Lessons learned could be applied to other countries involved in illegal drug crops including Afghanistan, Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, Paraguay and Pakistan.
The project started in 2019 and will run until July 2021.