Colombia Trade announces the illegal coca and poppy crops, grown by narco-traffickers in Colombia to produce cocaine and heroin, are destroying one of the most important environmentally rich regions on the planet.

  • An estimated 6,600 hectares of poppy crops are growing in the Andean forests and the high Andean mountains. The total area damaged to produce these crops is approximately 78,500 hectares.

Deforestation: More than one million hectares (equivalent to 2.47 million acres) of Colombia’s tropical forests have been destroyed since 1985 to support illegal narco-trafficking production. This is an area larger than Yellowstone National Park. The destruction of one million hectares of tropical forests in Colombia to grow illegal coca and poppy crops is equivalent to the climate change impact on the environment of two years of U.S. greenhouse emissions at 1990levels. This deforestation contributes to global warming-burning forests to clear the land for illegal crops releases methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide into the earth’s atmosphere.

Precursor Chemicals: The chemicals used to process coca into cocaine and poppies into heroin cause severe damage to the environment. The chemicals used by drug traffickers to produce cocaine and heroin are highly toxic, including ethyl ether, acetone, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid and potassium permanganate. These chemicals are not manufactured in Colombia, but are illegally imported as contraband from around the world, including from the United States, Europe and China.

Cocaine is manufactured in a three-step process: (1) the raw leaf is transformed to coca paste, then (2) converted to cocaine base, then (3) the base is refined into finished powder cocaine. During each of these steps, traffickers use a significant quantity of chemicals. Narco-traffickers dispose of used chemicals by merely dumping them into the soil or into the vast river systems of the Amazon, where they pollute waterways both at the source and downstream. Humans who consume water, food or animal products from this polluted food chain are at risk for any number of health problems.

In addition, the chemicals are often brought into Colombia in poorly-packed containers, which causes the chemicals to spill into the soil and water systems, causing additional contamination and erosion. From 1984 to 1998, more than 900,000 tons of these chemicals were dumped into the region.

Pesticides: Pesticides used by farming peasants to generate higher yields of poppy and coca plants, also cause damage to the ecosystem by killing fauna, insects and animals and destroying chains of the ecosystem.

Human Migration: The production of coca and poppy in Colombia also influences human migration within the country, as people move from other regions of the country to the Amazon, and destroy forest lands, build houses, prepare land for farming and increase soil erosion.

The Colombia government is committed to preserving its land and natural resources, including a reforestation program to rehabilitate Amazon lands destroyed to create industrial coca plantations. It is working hard to strengthen the programs to substitute illicit crops by making available inexpensive credit and technical assistance to farmers. In regions less suitable for agriculture, the government is providing support to families so they become forest rangers to take care of the environment and work for the reforestation of regions affected by the cultivation of illegal crops.

Colombia’s role in conserving its ecosystem is a major responsibility, not just for the Colombian people, but for the rest of the world. As Colombia works to stop the destruction of its tropical forests for the production and manufacturing of illegal drugs, it will require extensive cooperation from the United States and the international community.