Monday, 21 July 2008

Rise in food prices has Bolivian coca farmers planting rice

SINAHOTA, Bolivia: Soaring food prices may yet achieve what the United States has spent millions of dollars trying to do: persuade Bolivian farmers to sow their fields with crops other than coca, cocaine's raw ingredient.
The unlikely advocate for change is the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, who as leader of a powerful coca growers' union fought U.S. crop-substitution programs for two decades. But rising grain prices and food shortages have made Morales reconsider, and he is now asking coca farmers to supplement their crops with rice and corn as a way of holding down coca production while helping to feed the poorest country in South America.
U.S. programs have often banned the planting of coca - a small, green leaf sacred to Andean peoples and the base ingredient of cocaine - as a condition for farmers to receive aid for trying new crops.
In his own twist on alternative development, Morales is willing to split the difference: Growers can maintain up to one "cato" of coca - about a tenth of a hectare, or a third of an acre - which earns them about 720 bolivianos, or $100, a month while they receive a loan to plant other products.
The cato limit - in practice since 2004 - is seen by U.S. drug officials as a questionably legal concession to drug smugglers, but it has become the linchpin of Morales's strategy to fight narcotics while supporting the leaf's traditional use as a mild stimulant with medicinal qualities.

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