Coca Farmers Poverty traps Colombian coca farmers in an unsustainable, unethical and sometimes dangerous occupation. During the country’s half-century-long civil war, rural communities were built up around the cultivation of coca to be used in the production of cocaine.

The Peace Deal

Militant guerrilla groups such as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were reliable buyers of coca crops as they used the cocaine trade to finance the war with the Colombian government. However, in 2016, a peace deal was agreed upon between the Colombian government and FARC that officially put an end to the civil war in Colombia. The peace agreement included a plan to wean rural communities off of the cultivation of coca by asking them to uproot their own coca plants and then providing them a monthly stipend as well as technical assistance in order to assist them in transitioning from coca to other crops. Due to organizational and financial oversights, however, many coca farmers have not received their full stipends nor have they received the technical assistance to change crops. Despite this, the Colombian government continues to carry out forced coca crop eradication efforts that leave these communities with no viable source of income.

Impoverished Farmers in Colombia

Even though the Colombian civil war is officially over, armed groups still vie for control of the cocaine trade, often employing violent, coercive methods to secure a steady supply of coca from impoverished farmers, putting coca farmers’ families and communities at risk due to the production of coca.

Often struggling to make ends meet, farmers rely on the steady income that coca cultivation provides them, despite their concerns about ethics and danger. With the implementation of the government’s coca replacement program falling flat, coca farmers were given little choice but to continue to cultivate coca crops or watch their families go hungry. Colombian law enforcement officials say 40% of forcefully eradicated coca crops are replanted. Voluntary replacement of coca crops with other crops is much more promising, with replanting rates near zero.

The Voluntary Replacement of Coca Crops

The voluntary replacement of coca crops with cacao allows farmers to provide themselves with a reliable income without having to endanger themselves or contribute to the narcotics industry. The National Federation of Cacao Farmers (Fedecacao) has been helping farmers to make this transition. With yields of up to 800kg per hectare, a cacao farmer can earn up to double the minimum wage of Colombia, making coca cultivation a less attractive alternative due to its illegality and the violence that the coca industry brings about. On top of this, the cacao industry in Colombia is growing with 177,000 hectares devoted to cacao­­, 25,000 of which were transitioned from coca cultivation. The increased production of cacao has resulted in Colombia becoming a cacao exporting country.

Joel Palacios Advocates for Cacao Transition

One particular example of a successful transition from coca cultivation to cacao is taking place in the department of Chocó in western Colombia where 60% of people live below the poverty line. Joel Palacios, a native of Chocó, has been devoted to advocating for the replacement of coca by cacao since 2011. For years, Palacios ran a chocolate training center for coca farmers who desire to grow cacao and turn it into chocolate. Palacios then launched Late Chocó, his own artisanal chocolate company based in Bogotá.

Helping Farmers Transition to Cacao

Stories like that of Palacios show the benefits of working with coca farmers to replace dangerous and illegal crops with more legal, profit-earning alternatives such as cacao. Whereas forcible, nonconsensual uprooting of coca produces inefficient results, the prospect of a steady, legal source of income incentivizes coca farmers to make the transition to cacao on their own.

Willy Carlsen
Photo: Flickr

A Solution to Poverty in Peru
Peru’s location in the dense tropics of the Amazon is contentious. While the environment offers the water and sunshine needed to efficiently grow crops, frequent natural disasters destroy the very lands Peruvian farmers cultivate. The destruction of the cacao bean is a primary concern among rural agriculturists. Voted as the provider of the best dark chocolate in the world in 2017, it is imperative that cacao beans thrive as they provide a solution to poverty in Peru.

Poverty in Peru

The Peruvian government recorded a poverty rate of 21.7 percent in 2017, 1 percent higher than the previous year. This is the first time in sixteen years the poverty rate has risen in Peru, leaving 6.9 million individuals in conditions of economic instability and future uncertainty. Those living in rural areas are most affected because the urban setting acts as an energetic palette for new job opportunities and activism.

Cacao Farming in Peru

The cacao bean offers a solution to poverty in Peru, particularly for the impoverished individuals who have access to vast growing valleys. The South American country is ranked as one of the world’s most biodiverse. This makes for rich soil content that provides a promising potential for high-quality cacao growth. Furthermore, Peru’s climate is one of few that supports the growth of a variety of cacao species. Some common varieties include the Trinitary, Amazon foreign and Creole cacao beans.

Peruvian farmers have taken advantage of these environmental accolades, as it has become one of the world’s prominent cacao producers. Cacao exported from Peruvian growing sites rose a substantial 424 percent from 2001 to 2007. Within these same years, exporting profits rose from $0.2 million to $11 million. This number does not include the Peruvian profit margin of products made from cacao, including cacao butter, liquor, paste, husks, and cocoa powder.

The Peruvian government has recognized the considerable benefits reaped by cacao production. National policy crafted after the 2017 increase in poverty levels illustrate that the government is specifically mindful of cacao production and hopes to bolster its distribution as a solution to poverty in Peru.

One of these policies includes the weeding out of illegal cocaine farms and offering the land to cacao farmers. The U.S has recently demonstrated its support for this strategy. In 2018, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) joined the Peruvian Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs (DEVIDA) as well as a multitude of private businesses in Peru. The U.S. government has connected these farmers to a new international base through which they can expect a prosperous return on their delicious beans. The renewed farmlands furthermore provide new opportunities for the jobless as countless hands are needed to carefully harvest the cacao bean.

What Does the Future Hold?

As a result of Peru’s and the U.S.’s dual effort to protect and distribute Peruvian cacao beans, USAID has predicted that Peru’s exportation of this bean will more than double by 2021. A new partnership with the U.S. also establishes Peru’s intimate access to the $35 billion American confectionery industry. These statistics will suggest that poverty rates in Peru, specifically in rural areas, will once again begin to sink.

The cacao bean will continue to put smiles on faces across the world. As long as there is a hunger for delightful Peruvian dark chocolate, there will be a job opportunity for an individual living in poverty. The value of the cacao bean can therefore hardly be underestimated, and while economic instability is an arduous and persistent problem, the production of cacao beans provides a sweet solution to poverty in Peru.

– Annie O’Connell
Photo: Flickr