A nearly ritualistic experience when one travels to the Peruvian highlands is to sip on coca tea. Many Peruvian residents may even have boxes stashed away to brew on cold winter evenings. This form of consumption of the coca plant however accounts for a miniscule percentage of its overall use, whereas over 90%, according to statistics from the National Commission for a Drug-Free Life (DEVIDA), is linked with illegal drug trafficking.
Realizing that farmers of coca rely on the crop to earn an income and therefore cannot simply stop cultivating, DEVIDA has implemented policies of crop substitution. Ideally, farmers can continue to financially support their families, but in a more sustainable and safer manner.
As stated on their Facebook page, DEVIDA works towards the goal of changing the mindset of the Peruvian population so as to “favor healthy lifestyles without actions linked to the production and consumption of drugs”. Changing routine, not to mention lifestyle is never easy, which is why DEVIDA officials talk with community members and build a trusting relationship before eradicating the crops.
As Alberto Otárola, the commission’s executive president tells Infosurhoy,
“Resistance is normal, these are people who spent their entire lives planting coca, and they’re going to resist letting it go.”
Which is why the alernative development projects offered by such organizations as DEVIDA are so important. As Otárola points out, DEVIDA provides assistance to farmers “enabling them to improve their [planting and harvesting]capacities” so the transition from coca to another crop can be successful.
Unlike the recent events in Huanuco whereby Peruvian police wiped out an estimated 63, 000 kilograms of marijuana crops, DEVIDA “convinces the coca producers themselves to eradicate their illegal crops”. The farmers thus prove their commitment to move onto a different crop, motivated by support, not force from an outside group
DEVIDA reports show that 12,721 hectares of coca plants were destroyed between January and July of 2014. The organization has a year-end goal of wiping out 30,000 hectares. As coca plants disappear from farmlands, the prices have been surging, creating a disinterest in consumerism.
Rather than to simply eradicate the notorious crop, farmers are shown a profitable alternative.