The Coca plant has been a sacred plant in Latin America for centuries. Coca leaves are chewed during social interactions and religious ceremonies, or made into a tea for basic nutrition and medicinal purposes. In its raw form, it is merely a mild stimulant and cultivating the plant is not illegal in Peru.
Coca leaves though, are also the source of the illegal white powder cocaine, a centerpiece of the billion dollar global drug trade, distributed in street corners all over the globe. And in the context of growing global demand, Peru has surpassed Columbia as the world’s leading producer of cocaine.
The cocaine trade requires production of coca plants far in excess of what would ordinarily be used for traditional consumption. This leads to deforestation via a number of processes. It’s not just that the forest is cleared to make room for the plantations, but new agricultural lands are required to support the people working on the plantations. These frequently spring up in remote poorer regions where the forests have remained comparatively intact. The growing cocaine hubs then become hubs for other activities, like illegal logging.