VRAEM: Converting coca fields is a little difficult

By Hillary Ojeda

The Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation has goals to convert coca fields that experts think are unreachable.

VRAEM: Converting coca fields is a little difficult

Getting coca farmers to switch crops is considered "impossible" by experts. (Photo: El Comercio archive)

The Ministry of Agriculture wants to convert coca fields into alternate crops but experts find it more challenging than the government entity, according to El Comercio.

Minister of Agriculture, Juan Manuel Benites, wants to have 2,000 hectares of coca leaves converted into alternative crops within three months. Last year not one single hectare of coca in the VRAEM was converted, Benites told El Comercio.

Experts claim it is “impossible” to achieve this in the VRAEM.

The VRAEM (Valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro rivers) is Peru’s largest coca producing region and therefore, largest cocaine producing region according to the UN Office on Drugs. In fact, Peru is now the largest cocaine producing country in the world. The region is densely filled with lush jungle forests and is optimal for growing coca. Finally, it is a law-less, unregulated region of Peru which makes it easy for drug traffickers to rule and intimidate locals.

In an attempt to fight cocaine production the government has implemented various tactics, such as exploding clandestine landing strips, burning fields of coca, offering subsidies to farmers that grow alternative crops, and recently adopting a no-fly zone over the region.

The government has recently been looking to develop replacing the coca fields with other crops that grow well in the region such as coffee, cocoa, and pineapple. With these crops they want to replace 2,000 hectares of coca in three months.

According to Benites, the two main reasons this has been difficult are that the cost for coca leaf for drug trafficking is still high, as well as that traffickers threaten the growers if they consider replacing their coca crops. Therefore, farmers aren’t left with many options considering these two factors.

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