By Elsa Nivia *
Aerial spraying of crops for illicit use did not begin in Colombia 10 years ago but more than 20 years ago. The production of crops for illicit use began in Colombia in the 1960s with the planting of marijuana in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, where the first aerial spraying with paraquat was carried out, with disastrous environmental and social consequences.
These fumigations were strongly rejected by the North American citizens, due to concerns about the contamination of marijuana with residues of paraquat, an extremely toxic herbicide that causes pulmonary fibrosis; Probably due to this pressure, the use of this herbicide in the eradication of illicit crops was suspended in Colombia, but apparently it continues to be used on marijuana in Mexico. The cultivation of marijuana lost importance in Colombia, not because of fumigations but because of the establishment of production in the United States, where marijuana is being planted in significant quantities without the forced eradication strategy with aerial fumigation being applied.
In Colombia, marijuana was largely replaced by coca and poppy in the 1980s and 1990s. Legally authorized chemical eradication began in 1984 with the approval of Roundup  (glyphosate + POEA ). Subsequently, tests have been proposed and carried out with other herbicides such as tebuthiuron and imazapyr, even the dispersal of the pathogenic fungus Fusarium oxysporum was proposed, but they have not been authorized thanks to the strong actions of civil society.
Colombia, the only American country where the strategy of forced eradication with aerial spraying of Roundup and other surfactants such as CosmoFlux and CosmoInD has been accepted, is where plantings have grown the most, particularly in 1999, the year in which President Pastrana announced Plan Colombia .
Here is a comparison with the market for pesticides, which cause serious impacts on our health, environment and economy, but have the license of all States under the rationale of profit and their manufacturers are not treated as criminals.
Fumigations induce more plantings
When analyzing the dynamics of the hectares of crops for illicit use identified and those eradicated during the period 1992-2001, it is concluded that under fumigations the annual plantings are greater, because sooner or later the eradicated area has been replaced and even exceeded.
To calculate the new annual sowings over a decade, it has been assumed that each year begins with the net hectares of the previous one (cultivated less eradicated), to which are added the new sowings that replace the eradicated ones and the additional ones necessary to reach the identified area of the year. The possible influence of the fumigations on the new coca crops is presented in the following Table and Graph:
New supposed annual coca plantings under fumigations, and new theoretical plantings without eradication
|Year||Identified coca (hectares)||Coca eradicated (hectares)||Go to the next year *||New annual plantings with fumigations **||New theoretical plantings without eradication ***|
* Cultivated less eradicated.
** Difference between the total hectares identified in the year and those that pass from the previous year
*** Difference between the identified hectares of a year and the immediately preceding one.
The observed trend is that each increase in fumigations in one year coincides with increases in the identified areas of the following year or the following two years, probably due to the time required for displacement, the search for new land, felling of forests, the preparation of new plantings and the initial development of plants to be identified by satellite systems.
If this preliminary analysis is correct, only after the years 2002 and 2003 have elapsed, can the impact of the 2000 and 2001 fumigations on the new coca crops be evaluated. This may mean that if the new government does not suspend spraying to urgently implement strategies different from those of the previous 20 years, it will lose its opportunity to innovate in this old, painful and growing problem, and will not have enough time to carry out effective programs. of alternative sustainable development, which do not prosper under fumigation and do not yield results in the short term.
With these assumptions, it is expected to provide elements so that a deeper analysis and a broad debate can begin in the country, on the real incidence of chemical eradication contemplated in Plan Colombia, on the expansion of crops for illicit use, drug trafficking and violence, in Colombia and towards neighboring countries.
Concepts of the Comptroller and the Ombudsman
The Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic, through the Office of the Delegate Comptroller for the Environment, evaluated the period 1992 - 2000 of the Policy for the Eradication of Illicit Crops and Plan Colombia, in response to its growing concern regarding the effectiveness of the programs and the high level of impact on the environment and the health of the population. The report began with a clear summary of the problem: “In Colombia, crops for illegal uses arise under structural conditions conducive to their development: marginality and permanent crisis of the agricultural sector associated with factors of access, tenure and use of land. Peasants and settlers located in regions unprotected by the State, with low indices of quality of life, without public services or infrastructure to model their development and who, in their desire to subsist and given the low yields offered by traditional agricultural crops , they see this activity as an option, for which they should not worry about achieving their market or having the necessary infrastructure for their distribution, because these activities are carried out in other links in the chain, all marked by a constant demand for narcotics. "
Complaints presented to the Municipal Authorities and other entities, which have been channeled to the Office of the Ombudsman in Bogotá, indicate that the glyphosate fumigations with the formal objective of eliminating the coca and poppy plantations have been destructive to the population and their environment. Thousands of people and tens of thousands of hectares of food crops have been destroyed. Thousands of people's health has been damaged. At the same time, there may be long-term unpredictable effects that we don't even know about.
Regarding Plan Colombia, it is stated that the resources destined to alternative development are negligible (8% of the North American contribution), in such a way that the objectives are rhetorical and the actions are mostly of a welfare nature, not very self-sustaining, with a sense of help and not self-generation of resources. Furthermore, until now, forced eradication has not discouraged the expansion of illicit crops, but on the contrary, it has stimulated them. Regarding the environmental component in Plan Colombia, the aforementioned evaluation concluded that "it is not properly considered."
Misappropriation of funds for fumigations
In May of this year 2002 the North American government verified the diversion of 2 million dollars of the monies destined to the fumigations. The investigation allowed the identification of irregularities such as unauthorized trips, alleged front companies, importation of unjustified campaign rations, excess purchases of spare parts, excess fuel costs, waste, cost overruns and inefficiency in the use of resources. These irregularities were clearly explained by the head of the Department of Andean Affairs of the Department of State, Mr. Chicola, in an interview for RCN's “La Noche” program on August 15, 2002. Mr. Chicola was also calm and confident that with some administrative changes the controls will improve in the future. The sum of 2 million dollars even seemed small compared to the North American aid, because 80% to 90% is represented in equipment such as helicopters and others that the United States buys directly, and the aid part in terms of assistance programs Social is closely managed between the United States and the entities.
The monies that are destined to the useless chemical eradication and corruption, although for the North American government they do not represent much, they would be much more useful if they were destined to sustainable development in the countryside and the improvement of the quality of life of rural communities , with total suspension of fumigations.
Elsa Nivia: Agricultural Engineer. Graduated in biology and chemistry. Executive Director RAPALMIRA. PAN-Colombia. Cali.
 The brand name Roundup corresponds to a family of Monsanto herbicides, formulated based on the active ingredient glyphosate and the surfactant POEA. The difference between these formulations lies in the concentration of glyphosate and / or that of POEA or in the proportion of the amines that make it up. Other surfactants can even be added without notice, which is considered a trade secret.
 POEA is the acronym for the polyoxyethyl amine surfactant contained in all Roundup formulations and other glyphosate-based herbicides. POEA is a mixture of ethoxylated amines derived from animal fat, five times more toxic than glyphosate - EcoPortal.net
* Elsa nivia