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Liliana M. Dávalos: Fighting the Wrong War: "Unmet Basic Needs and Coca Cultivation in Colombia"

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Published on May 11, 2012

A presentation by Liliana M. D?valos, Department of Ecology and Evolution, SUNY Stony Brook, USA.Part of the University of Chicago Program on the Global Environment's inaugural conference on the Social Life of Forests, held May 30-31, 2008.Despite at least two decades of implementing aerial eradication and expenditures on the order of several billion dollars, the goal of eliminating coca cultivation in Colombia remains elusive. Since aerial fumigation was first implemented in the mid 1980s, coca production and processing became integrated, making Colombia both the world's largest producer of coca leaves and the largest exporter of cocaine. As a result of this vertical integration, forest fragmentation associated with coca production has increased dramatically. At present, the spatial and social dynamics of frontier colonization are mostly linked to coca, rather than to legal commodities such as cattle or oil palm. We analyzed the spatial distribution of coca over the last 7 years with the goal of uncovering correlates of coca production and expansion in Colombia. Our analyses included as independent variables biologically relevant features, such as temperature and precipitation maxima and minima, and forest ecotones, as well as factors directly linked to the campesino economy, such as migration, accessibility, and poverty. With few exceptions, the current distribution of coca reaches all habitats with suitable environmental conditions. Net emigration, a high percentage of households with unmet basic necessities, and medium accessibility characterized areas where coca has expanded. Coca production was not directly linked to unemployment ? an urban phenomenon ? or immigration. The results suggest that most coca growers are local campesinos, and that alternative crops require extra credit or subsidies to overcome the relatively difficult access to legal markets. Together with field surveys conducted by SIMCI, these results support the hypothesis that eradication has led to internal displacement, thereby speeding forest fragmentation in Colombia.

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