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Andean Coca Farmers Still Find Coca Most Lucrative Crop


March 1993

Andean farmers have good financial reasons for continuing to grow coca, and it is unlikely that the economic equation can be substantially altered, according to a recent report in The Economist (No byline, "High in the Andes," The Economist, 2/13/93).

Three years after former President George Bush launched his Andean initiative, cocaine is as cheap and plentiful as ever on U.S. streets and the State Department estimates that 1991 coca production increased. The current U.S. retail cocaine market is somewhere between $30 billion and $150 billion.

Efforts at interdiction and crop substitution have failed, the former because the amounts of cocaine imported are so large that seizures have little overall impact, the latter both because alternative crops are intrinsically less lucrative and because there is no infrastructure to bring such crops to market. A recent U.S. General Accounting Office report to Congress argued that crop substitution was unlikely to succeed, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has calculated the cost of raw coca as making up less than 1 percent of the retail cost of refined cocaine in the U.S., according to The Economist. The latter statistic means that traffickers could easily afford to increase what they pay for raw coca if a shortage occurred, thereby stimulating production.