From cocaine to coffee: Farmers in Colombia join forces to protect wildlife

Animal News : From cocaine to coffee: Farmers in Colombia join forces to protect wildlife
Coffea plant, photo: Rodrigo Flores on Unsplash

Farmers in Colombia are giving up producing coca, the main ingredient for cocaine, to farm coffee beans to protect wildlife.

Colombia is home to over 50,000 species of animals and plants. Rare predators like ocelots, pumas and spectacled bears live in the forests of San Lucas.

Colombian environmental group WebConserva talks with farmers to make the switch from producing coca to coffee beans. That way, their plantations can build protective borders around forests to protect the animals that live there.

The San Lucas range is one of the most unexplored places in Colombia, which is the world’s second most biodiverse country after neighboring Brazil.

Yet, their ecosystem is threatened by drug cultivation and gold mining. Parts of the forests are being burned to produce more coca crops or mine gold.

Protector of land
Farmer Arcadio Barajas says tearing down the forest to plant coca and killing wildlife went against his faith, but he – like his neighbors – was desperate for money. He feels that growing coffee lets him be a good protector of his land.

For the farmers, the switch to coffee from coca or mining is less profitable. Coca could fetch up to $735 per kilo. For coffee, they receive between $250 to $300 per 125 kilos.

But Barajas is ok with that: “I’m taking care of the environment, the forest and the animals.”

Don’t cut trees or hunt animals
So far, ten families farming some 400 hectares have signed up. WebConserva hopes eventually to include 200 families, which could protect 20,000 or more hectares of virgin forest.

The families that work with WebConserva pledge not to cut trees to expand their crops or to hunt the animals that depend on the forests for survival.

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