Bolivia: Coca farmers 'poison own crops'

Women walking through coca fields in Bolivia

Something is killing off Bolivia's coca crops - and for once it's not the eradication schemes that target drug suppliers.

Farmers are poisoning their own plants through excessive use of weedkillers, it seems. Agricultural officials carried out tests in the central Chapare region, where more than 5% of the 7,000 hectares of legally-grown coca plants were drying out, the La Paz-based daily La Razon reports. And preliminary results apparently suggest the inside of the stem turns yellow, the leaves dry out and the roots rot due to the over-use of herbicides or pesticides in an area where weeds are particularly stubborn.

Coca provides the raw ingredient for cocaine but a limited amount of cultivation is allowed in Bolivia, where there's a tradition among indigenous people to chew the plant's leaves and President Evo Morales heads the growers' union. Historically, the practice helped mineworkers' maintain strength during long shifts, while the leaves' properties are said to alleviate altitude sickness. However, the government has reportedly still wiped out 6,610 hectares of illegal crops so far this year.

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