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Bolivia Needs 14,700 Hectares Of Coca To Satisfy Legal Demand, According To Study

posted 14 Nov 2013, 09:54 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 14 Nov 2013, 09:55 ]

Bolivia says study indicates country needs to produce more legal coca to keep up with domestic demand.

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA (NOVEMBER 13, 2013) (REUTERS) -  Bolivia needs to cultivate 14,700 hectares (36,300 acres) of coca per year to satisfy traditional, legally protected domestic demand for leaves that can be chewed or brewed into tea, said a study released by the government on Wednesday (November 13).

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Bolivians have chewed raw coca leaves for centuries as a mild stimulant that reduces hunger and altitude sickness, but the plant is also the raw ingredient used in making cocaine.

Coca is not illegal in the Andean country, but the government aims to eradicate excess crops that could be diverted to making cocaine.

Developed with help from the European Union, the Integrated Coca Leaf Study said 14,700 hectares (36,300 acres) of coca cultivation is needed every year to satisfy permitted local demand.

"It gives us a surface area of 14,705 hectares (36,300 acres) [of coca]," Interior Minister Carlos Romero said.

However, a recent United Nations study said the country cultivated roughly 25,300 hectares (62,500 acres) of coca in 2012 making it the world's third-largest coca producer after Colombiaand Peru.

Romero said more studies needed to be done to get clear numbers on the issue and to determine how the country should meet legal demands.

"Right now it is not possible to have sure information about the quantity of coca leaves needed for industrialization. The industrialization of coca is not a developed reality in our country right now of which there is no objective universe for which we can establish an industrialized potential. If there were dynamic activity well, we could have established a projection. But at this time, (when it comes to) the industrial use of coca leaves, there are only small family business initiatives," Romero said.

Nonetheless, Romero said the study was an important step in understanding domestic demand.

"Any ruling in the areas of mining, hydrocarbons, agriculture, in any category, is not binding by itself, but it is a study, that from our point of view, has met the rigorous scientific requirements demanded and is a very valuable reference to the volume and the expanse of coca needed for domestic consumption," Romero added.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower himself, met with coca growing leaders at the presidential palace on Tuesday (November 12) before releasing the findings.

Morales has long promoted the domestic production of coca leaves for legal consumption.

Coca cultivation in Bolivia fell for the second consecutive year in 2012 as the government stepped up eradication efforts, according to an annual survey compiled by the United Nations and theBolivian government.

Cultivation of coca bushes in Bolivia fell by around 7 percent to roughly 25,300 hectares, following a 12 percent drop in 2011, according to the survey released in August.

Some 3.8 million Bolivians out of a total population of about 10.5 million use coca in indigenous religious ceremonies, drink coca tea or chew leaves, the study found.

According to the study, 73 metric tons of coca produced in Bolivia goes towards making teas, ointments, wine and other coca products.