Peruvian Farmers Abandoning Coffee Plantations for Coca Fields

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A drop in coffee prices is forcing hundreds of Peruvian farmers to seek work in coca plantations-a sign that the country, like its neighbor Colombia, is seeing a boom in coca cultivation.

A report by the Association of Exporters (ADEX) notes that although coffee production increased by 6 percent in Peru between January and November of 2018, the total value of the exported goods decreased by 6 percent. This is directly attributed to low prices in the international market and obstacles in the consolidation of sales contracts.

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Lorenzo Castillo, a general manager of the National Coffee Board (JNC), stated last December that farmers had started migrating to drug-trafficking regions of the country to work on coca plantations, where they can earn higher wages. Castillo mentioned that the trend is a major issue in regions such as Satipo, Puerto Ocopa, Rio Tambo, and Alto Mayo.

The JNC has requested the government of President Martin Vizcarra to intervene and help coffee farmers to remain competitive within the global market.

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Whereas Colombia has had trouble getting farmers to switch from coca to other crops because of market prices, these same dynamics are now boosting Peru’s coca cultivation.

Farmers in Peru can receive approximately 40 Peruvian soles (around $12) for a day’s work in a coffee plantation. For the same day’s work cultivating coca, payment exceeds 100 Peruvian soles (around $30).

The discrepancy in wages is being exacerbated by declining coffee prices in the international market. From 2014 to 2019, the cost per pound of coffee declined from $1.784 to $1.016.

In addition to these factors, coca cultivation in Peru, which decreased considerably between 2015 and 2016, rose 14 percent to 49,900 hectares in 2017. This is attributed to the price increase of coca leaf and a decline in eradication efforts, according to a joint report in December by the United Nations and the National Commission for Development and Life without Drugs (DEVIDA).

SEE ALSO: Can Peru’s Ambitious Eradication Goal Reduce Coca Crops?

A combination of weak market prices and an increase of coca cultivation is testing Peru’s eradication program which was launched in 2017. The aim of the program was to reduce Peru’s coca space by more than 50 percent and also attract thousands of farmers into adhering to crop substitution programs by 2021.

But similarly to Colombia, which has recently announced a new program to forcefully eradicate coca fields, Peru’s initiative looks like it will fall far short of expectations. Without substantial support from the state, it is likely that more and more coffee farmers in Peru will continue to drift into the coca fields.

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