Prices of cocoa beans, used to make chocolate, have dropped 40 percent this year in Colombia, South America’s third-largest supplier, as the cost of leaves processed into cocaine holds steady.
The chocolate ingredient’s slump in the past year, as concern about Ivory Coast supply disruptions subsides and European demand weakens, is threatening a more than decade-long campaign in Colombia to eradicate drug production that funds guerrilla movements. It’s also jeopardizing growers’ plans to become South America’s largest cocoa producer after Brazil, Bloomberg reported.
“If you make an effort to invest in cocoa and then get unprofitable prices, and someone else shows up and pays cash for the other stuff, the farmer migrates to what’s easier,” said Ciro Alfonso Ramirez, who heads a northern Colombian regional office of the National Cocoa Growers Federation.
The number of hectares planted with coca leaves rose 3.2 percent in 2011, faster than the area sowed with cocoa, based on federation and United Nations data. While the government eradication campaign saw cocaine production slip 1.4 percent to 345 metric tons last year, cocoa output tumbled 9.8 percent.
More than 62,000 families grow the leaves, compared with about 16,000 families making a living off the chocolate-making beans, based on United Nations and federation figures.
To support cocoa farmers, the government is helping them find buyers, offering loans, and planning to improve infrastructure like roadways to ease access to markets, said Colon, from the state-run eradication program. The efforts also are aimed at discouraging farmers from replanting coca after government spraying eradicates crops
The government aims to cut cocaine output by 25 tons to about 320 tons this year, a two-decade low, according to police estimates.
Less drug revenue and military strikes against rebel leaders have weakened guerrilla groups and cut terrorist attacks since 2002, helping draw a record $13.2 billion in international investment to Colombia last year.
Colombia slipped to third from first as the world’s largest supplier of cocaine, behind neighboring Peru and Bolivia, President Juan Manuel Santos said last week. The global market for the narcotic is worth about $85 billion, with traffickers reaping most of the profit, according to the United Nations.