Francisco Barrantes,

 

coca farmer, president of the coca growers union FEPA-VRAE

"We are slaves of the drug traffickers"

"I came to the VRAEM valley in the 60s. I plant coca, like all the other farmers. We have the best climate here for the coca plant, while other crops do not grow easily on these soils.

Coca is resistant and can be harvested two to three times per year. Thanks to the coca, I was able to send my three daughters to university. Without the coca I wouldn’t be able to take care of my family.

 

Growing coca is legal, because the coca leaves are also used for the preparation of teas, herbal medicine and for chewing. Only the processing to coca paste and cocaine is illegal. The official buyers of coca leaves are from the state-owned company ENACO, but they are very demanding when it comes to the quality. When leaves are damaged or too small, they reject them. And they pay less than the illegal buyers. Therefore, everyone prefers selling to the drug mafia. They send people to our homes to pick up the merchandise. We don’t even need to pay for transportation. At the moment, a kilo is between two and three US-dollars, which is not really profitable, because the prices for fertilizer and herbicides have increased. You know, we have large families, and because the land is split between in generation of heirs, there is always less of it. That’s how we remain slaves of the drug traffickers.

 

If we had support from the state, we would like to grow something else. I have tried coffee and cocoa, but it dried up. We are a seven hour drive from the nearest cities, and the roads are in very bad shape. Transport is expensive, and thus it is not profitable. The government claims to have spent millions for the cultivation of alternative products, but none of that has reached us coca farmers. I don’t know who got the money, probably it got stuck in the bureaucracy. Well, there were some training programs for us, but we also need loans. In Pichari there are 15 savings and credit cooperatives, but none of them lends money to us farmers. They invest in retail and real estate.

 

The government doesn’t dare to clean up the valley from the drug mafia and to impose alternative crops. They are afraid of an uprising. Not only because of the peasants, but also because there are still remnants of the Maoist Shining Path [link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shining_Path] rebel movement here. Only the military and the police are here to harass and threaten us, saying that they are going to pull out all coca plants.“

"If we had support from the state, we would like to grow something else."