Dealing with drugs: Colombia’s dilemma

Why the switch from coca to cacao is hard to do

There are few issues with just two sides or a clear right and wrong.

This is a recurrent theme for us and one that Sergio Held makes quite clear in a recent story for Ozy that considers the difficulty that Colombia is facing in cutting down on drug production.

Certainly, authorities want to cut down drug production, if for no other reason to curb the violence that has plagued the country for decades now. Convincing farmers to switch away from planting and harvesting coca is not easy, not because they are evil drug lords but because those farmers have families to support and children to feed. In the remote areas where coca is grown, there are few other crops that could generate similar revenue.

The government wants to get farmers to produce a variety of other crops, including cacao, but the demand and price that cacao fetches does not compare, for the time being, to coca. And there is little funding to help farmers.

So, what is a poor farmer to do?

Any parent will tell you that there is really little to debate here. A choice is between planting coca or watching your children go hungry is no choice at all. Even when the choice is not as dramatic as that, it is necessary to give coca farmers an actual fighting chance to make a living equal to or better than the one they can earn by planting coca if there is any hope of actually cutting down on the amount of land that is being used to grow the raw materials for drugs.

So why not make the money available? For one, it is a lot of money. Another concern is how to distribute it without a big chunk of it making its way to the cartels. Corruption is a problem. And then there is the fact that many farmers don’t really know how to grow anything but coca. Finally, in the areas where these farmers are, it is the cartels that make the rules, not the government.

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