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The Collective
Sunday, July 20, 2008
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Food rise has Bolivia’s coca farmers planting riceblockquote>Soaring food prices may achieve what the United States has spent millions of dollars trying to do: persuade Bolivian farmers to sow their fields with less potent crops than cocaine’s raw ingredient.

The headline and story are a bit misleading, as a passing read make it sound as if there a significance shift from coca cultivation to food production. In reading the story, however, this appears to be about a policy shift from the Morales administration:

rising grain prices and food shortages have made him reconsider. He’s now asking coca farmers to supplement their crops with rice and corn as a way of holding down coca production while helping to feed South America’s poorest country.

All of this links up to crop substitution policies:

In his own twist on alternative development, Morales is willing to split the difference: Growers can maintain up to one “cato” of coca, or about a third of an acre, which earns them about $100 a month while they receive a loan to plant other products as well.

Indeed, it is noteworthy that loans are needed to keep the farmers from going bankrupt as they plant food crops, so it is not as if the increase in grain prices is displacing coca profitability. To wit:

The amount of rice that the coca union is requiring could earn the same as a cato of coca, though it requires six times the land and a lot more labor. But the price of rice has tripled in Bolivia since last year and is continuing to rise.

Those are not numbers that favor crop substitution away from coca cultivation without government intervention.

Indeed, before anyone gets too excited:

“The total area used for coca is unlikely to be reduced significantly given market prices,” said Bruce Bagley, a drug expert at the University of Miami.

An accurate assessment, I suspect.

But fret not, if we ever have a major world famine, maybe then farmers will stop growing coca and start growing food!

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  1. [...] Swapping Coca Cultivation for Rice? (Don’t Get too Excited Yet) [...]

    Pingback by Bolivia » Food rise has Bolivia's coca farmers planting rice — Monday, July 21, 2008 @ 6:31 pm

  2. [...] Swapping Coca Cultivation for Rice? (Don’t Get too Excited Yet) [...]

    Pingback by Bolivia » BOLIVIA-Lonely Planet — Monday, July 21, 2008 @ 6:31 pm

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