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Bolivia Coffee Production Declines, Coca Cultivation Goes Up

A coffee plantation in Yungas, Bolivia A coffee plantation in Yungas, Bolivia

Coffee producers in Bolivia are abandoning coffee to cultivate coca, says the head of the country's coffee federation, illustrating the appeal of a crop that is less susceptible to wide price fluctuations on global commodity markets.

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According to Susana Lima, Secretary General of the Federation of Bolivia's Export Coffee Growers (Fecafeb), Bolivia is now exporting 70,000 bags of coffee per year compared to 110,000 in 2005, and this number is continuing to decline. Lima said that growing coffee has become less profitable as a result of the aging of coffee plantations and a lack of government incentives. As coffee profits decline, coffee producers are turning to coca crops as an alternative, she added.

A 2012 study reported the same phenomenon among food producers in the municipality of Yanacachi, who were turning away from traditional farming in favor of coca crop monoculture and gold mining.

Meanwhile there are indications the commercialization of coca for legal uses, encouraged by Bolivian President Evo Morales, is faltering. Following the closure of two coca production plants financed by Morales in the central Cochabamba province, the country's Vice-Minister of Coca, Dionisio Nuñez told news agencies, "Regrettably the public is not accustomed to products made from coca."

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As shown by the numerous failures in "crop substitution" programs, a major part of the appeal of coca cultivation is that coca is less susceptible to the wide fluctuations in global commodity prices that can decimate small farmers operating with fine profit margins.

Just last year, the number of Bolivian farmers switching from coca to coffee was being heralded as a major success, albeit a success dependent on global coffee prices, which have since crashed. It seems probable this decline in coffee profitability is fueling a renewal of coca cultivation.

Falling prices of traditional legal exports, such as cocoa, have also helped spur coca cultivation in Colombia, while sinking coffee prices have sparked social unrest.

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