Climate change and the threat of aerial glyphosate spraying of coca crops in Colombia

Published by Brent Patterson on

Three Colombian human rights defenders will be visiting Canada shortly and one of the issues that will be raised during their speaking tour is the relationship between coca crops, the lack of implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord, the forced eradication of illegal crops through the aerial spraying of glyphosate, and the impacts this has on people, a lasting peace, the environment and climate change.

Voluntary substitution

The Washington Post has explained, “In 2016, the FARC, the country’s largest insurgency, agreed to lay down its arms for promises of rural developmental programs that would finally enable poor farmers to earn their living in a legal economy.”

The voluntary substitution of illegal crops held the promise of state assistance for farmers that included cash incentives, technical support, new roads and bridges to get their products to market, teachers for their children, and legal title to land they hold informally.

The Guardian adds, “The deal included provisions to help peasants substitute coca crops for legal alternatives such as coffee and cacao.” But the Washington Post notes, “That pledge remains unfulfilled — and coca has proliferated.”

Deutsche-Welle highlights, “By not giving farmers the help they need to make the transition, Isabel Pereira [drug policy adviser for the Colombia-based research and advocacy organization Dejusticia] believes the Duque administration is actively weakening the 2016 deal and threatening the possibility of a lasting peace.”

Aerial spraying

This past July, The Washington Post also reported, “President Iván Duque, pressured by the United States, is pushing hard to resume aerial fumigation with glyphosate, the controversial practice that officials here say is the most effective way of eradicating the illicit crop that helped fund the war.”

“Duque, who took office last year, took his request to renew aerial fumigation to Colombia’s constitutional court in March. …His administration is challenging a 2015 court ruling that ended 25 years of U.S.-led flights…”

“The restrictions that the court placed in 2015 — the government had to consult local communities before spraying, and show scientific studies proving that it didn’t affect people’s health adversely — were so stringent that the practice was effectively halted.”

On August 1, Dialogo Chino reported, “A week ago, Colombia’s highest court laid out its conditions. Duque can move forward once he designs a programme that meets these requirements and once he has obtained an environmental licence.”

Coca crops, deforestation and climate change

The Transnational Institute has also explained, “The supply-reduction strategy and the way in which spraying is carried out in Colombia have only served to unleash a vicious cycle of destruction. This cycle causes pollution, also driving crops deeper and deeper into the jungle and thus causing drastic deforestation. Displaced crops are, in turn, sprayed again and the cycle repeats itself.”

It adds, “Each hectare fumigated will be substituted by another hectare further inside the jungle. Chemical spraying continuously displaces the cultivated areas towards ecologically more vulnerable territories, multiplying the effects of deforestation on the Amazon and the Andean mountains.”

As we know, deforestation is a significant contributor to climate change.

Additionally, The Guardian has reported, “Colombian authorities estimate that more than a quarter of petrol sold in the country last year went to the drugs industry, which depends on the fuel both as an ingredient and power source.”

That article further explains, “Petrol is a key ingredient in the first stage of cocaine processing, when psychoactive agents are extracted from coca leaves: about 75 gallons of fuel are needed for each kilogram of coca paste, which is then refined into cocaine. Large quantities of petrol are also needed to power generators in remote drug laboratories.”

In other words, unless the promise of the 2016 Peace Accord is fulfilled, there will be ongoing implications for the livelihoods of farmers, a stable and lasting peace, health protection, deforestation and climate change.

Speaking Tour

Julia Figueroa and Andrea Nocove from the Luis Carlos Perez Lawyers’ Collective (CCALCP) and Ivan Madero from the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS) will be talking about this and a range of other issues.

Their public forums include:

OTTAWA – Monday November 4, 6:30 pm, Amnesty International House, 312 Laurier Avenue East (just east of King Edward Ave.)

VANCOUVER – Wednesday November 6, 7 pm, SFU Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings Street

NANAIMO – Friday November 8, 2 pm, Building 200-Student Affairs/Room 203 (Lecture Hall), Vancouver Island University-Nanaimo Campus

Along with these three public forums, Julia, Andrea and Ivan will be meeting with civil society allies in Toronto, government officials in Ottawa, as well as students, lawyers and activists at information/strategy meetings across the country.

For more information, please contact us at

Top photo by Scott Dalton/AP.


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