Caught in the middle, Colombia's war on drugs and its effects on forest and people

Alexander Rincón-Ruiz, Giorgos Kallis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


© 2012 Coca plantations are the largest illegal agribusiness in the world, and Colombia is the world's leading coca producer. Since 1994, the Colombian state, with the aid of the US, has waged a war on drugs based on air fumigation of coca plantations. This article evaluates the social and environmental impacts of this policy. We construct and analyse statistically for the first time a spatial database with social, economic, environmental, coca production and fumigation data for all 1125 municipalities of Colombia for the period 2001–2008. We complement statistical analysis with in situ observations and secondary literature review. We find that even if the questionable government claims that overall extent of coca plantations has been reduced were to be true, still coca activity has been diffused in the territory, with devastating environmental and social consequences. Biodiversity hotspot areas are being deforested, and local populations, especially Afro-Colombian communities, are being displaced from their territories. Our statistical analysis provides quantitative evidence to back up previous claims based on victims’ experience, single case-studies and ethnographic observation. We question the effectiveness of the fumigation policy and suggest that what is actually eradicated by the war on drugs is not coca, but humans and the forest.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-78
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2013


  • Coca crops
  • Cocaine
  • Colombia
  • Deforestation
  • Fumigation
  • War on drugs

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