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Bolivian Government Proposes Increasing Land for Legal Coca Cultivation

The Bolivian government plans to expand the legal production of coca leaves, the raw material from which cocaine is produced, in a bid to reduce illegal cultivation of the plants.

Since 2004, the Bolivian government has allowed coca cultivation to take place on up to 12,000 hectares of land. The government has now proposed that a further 8,000 hectares of land be designated for coca leaf production.

Bolivia, the third largest producer of cocaine in the world, originally introduced legal coca cultivation for domestic consumption due to the violence and corruption being caused by the illegal cocaine trade.

Domestic demand is due to the cultural and religious importance of coca leaf chewing, which causes mildly stimulating effects, among many of Bolivia’s indigenous communities. The effects of chewing coca leaves are markedly different to those of cocaine – the production of which the Bolivian government continues to oppose.

A 2013 study by Vanderbilt University’s Latin America Public Opinion Project found that around 36 per cent of Bolivians chew coca leaves.

Tom Wainwright, author of Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel, describes Bolivia’s approach to coca production as relying on a fine balance: it involves “[licensing] enough cultivation to feed the market for tea, toothpaste, and all the rest of it, without growing enough to leak into the cocaine trade”.

Indeed, there is currently insufficient legally-produced coca to meet domestic demand, so the proposed expansion appears necessary to undermine illegal traders who seek to fill the market gap.

The proposed expansion has, however, been met with controversy by farmers in certain regions where coca cultivation will continue to be prohibited.

Gregorio Chamizo, Vice President of the Association of Coca Producers (Adepcoca), suggested that the government's plans of where to allow coca cultivation is part of wider discrimination against certain regions of the country.

"Let's be clear”, Chamizo said, “7,000 hectares for [the district of] Chapare, as well as the development of industrial plants, citrus, bananas and palmettos for export. They […] gave us nothing. We can’t accept that”.

Despite controversy, this proposed expansion marks a renewed government commitment to regulating coca cultivation and thereby reducing the power of drug cartels.

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