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From Cocaine to Fertilizers: Indigenous Community in Colombia Tries to Redefine the Coca Industry 

From Cocaine to Fertilizers: Indigenous Community in Colombia Tries to Redefine the Coca Industry 

In the heart of Colombia’s Cauca region, a group of indigenous communities from Cohetando, Togoima, and Calderas have embarked on an innovative project to transform the coca plant’s notorious image. Partnering with Canadian investors, they established a legal coca laboratory three years ago to produce fertilizers, perfumes, and alcoholic beverages instead of cocaine. This initiative, according to El Pais, faces critical challenges due to unmet government support despite its initial promise. 

The project aims to leverage the coca plant’s potential beyond its association with the illegal drug trade. Victoriano Piñacué, an indigenous leader and liaison between the communities and international investors, sees the initiative as a path to peace in southwest Colombia, a region long plagued by violence. He believes that legal coca production for industrial purposes can weaken narcotraffickers’ influence and provide safer livelihoods for farmers. 

Despite early enthusiasm and support from the Ministry of Agriculture, the project has encountered significant obstacles. A key issue is the lack of government purchases of the “Ancestral” fertilizer. During a media visit to the laboratory, leaders expressed their frustration and threatened to halt production until they receive state support. Piñacué highlighted the dilemma, pointing out the stockpile of 400 tonnes of fertilizer ready for distribution. 

Óscar Múnera, a Catholic bishop and project advocate, emphasized the distinction between this initiative and the narcotics trade. He underscored the potential benefits for the community and the country, urging government support. The laboratory, divided into sections, processes coca leaves into extracts and essences and produces the Ancestral fertilizer, showcasing both traditional and modern scientific methods. Zuli Mazabuel, a local guide, proudly demonstrated the facility’s operations, reflecting the community’s growing trust in the project. 

Challenges to Legalize the Coca Plant in Colombia

However, the path forward is challenging. The government remains cautious, seeking more rigorous scientific validation of the fertilizer’s efficacy. Luis Higuera Malaver, President of the Rural Development Agency, stressed the importance of convincing other farmers of the benefits and ensuring the investment’s usefulness. 

The project also faced initial skepticism within the community. Eliana Medina, representing the Nasa community of Cohetando, noted that many were initially concerned it might be a front for drug production. Over time, trust was built, particularly with Piñacué’s involvement, who speaks the local language and understands their concerns. 

In February, despite the Ministry of Agriculture’s authorization to commercialize the fertilizer, an investigation by El Espectador raised concerns about the lack of state control over the laboratory processes. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) subsequently pledged to certify the removal of alkaloids from the fertilizer. 

President Gustavo Petro’s administration has publicly supported the project, viewing it as a step towards sustainable agriculture and peace. However, substantial state investment remains contingent on further scientific validation and broader community adoption. The indigenous communities of Cauca hope their groundbreaking project will gain the momentum it needs, combining traditional wisdom and modern science to redefine the future of coca cultivation in Colombia. 

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