Bolivia looks to coca to energize its economy

Global Business

Bolivia looks to coca to energize its economy

Bolivia has almost doubled the area where farmers can legally grow coca, the base plant for cocaine. The goal is to meet demand for traditional uses, like chewing the leaf or making tea.

But critics worry it could boost the illegal drug trade.

CGTN’s Michael Voss has more.

Chapare Province lies in the subtropical lowlands of Bolivia, its dense forests providing perfect cover for the illegal coca labs used to make cocaine.

But Bolivia is also the only country in the world where the government has designated land to legally grow coca crops. The leaf has been chewed in the Andes for thousands of years to ward off hunger and fatigue.

Wilden Rosas is one of Bolivia’s many legal small scale coca growers. He invited me to visit his 10 hectare farm which he cut out of the forest.

“It’s just enough to make a living, we have no other choice,” said Coca farmer Wilden Rosas. “There are no alternatives.”

Rosas produces around 200 kilos of leaf a year. To do so legally, he must be a member of the Coca Growers Union and sell all he produces to the state. The new law almost doubles the area for authorized coca crops from 12 to 22 thousand hectares.

One of the reasons the government decided to increase the amount of legal coca cultivation was that the existing area wasn’t large enough to meet local consumption.

Critics argue this will provide more coca than can be consumed, and the excess will be diverted to the illegal drug trade.

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, who is also head of the Coca Growers Federation, argued that legal farms help monitor production while providing a future for the region.

Eduardo A. Gamarra discusses Bolivia’s coca industry

CGTN’s Rachelle Akuffo spoke with Florida International University political science and international relations professor Eduardo A. Gamarra about Bolivia’s coca industry. Gamarra is also the director of the Latino Public Opinion Forum.