Deforestation has continued to be an issue of concern because of its global implications for the environment, biodiversity and ecosystems. The primary driver for deforestation has been identified as human activities; however, these contributions towards deforestation differ according to the nature and scope of the human activity in question. Among the human activities that have a significant impact towards deforestation is the proliferation of global drug trade. Illegal drugs such as cocaine have had an increase in usage and subsequent demand; therefore, producers are faced with an expanding market that must be satisfied. This has led to growers encroaching on forests to create room for growing the illegal crops.
This paper will evaluate the implications of socio-economic factors in motivating the escalation of the drug trade in Columbia and the implications for deforestation. The growing of coca plants in Columbia is perceived as an economic endeavor that seeks to generate income and economic wealth for the growers. However, the implications for ecosystems and biodiversity that are found in the areas subjected to deforestation are often overlooked. These activities only focus on the short-term financial gains from drug sales and fail to consider the lasting outcomes on the environment and ecosystem that sustain varied biodiversity including human beings.
Factors that Contribute Towards Deforestation
Deforestation occurs when people are in need of resources that are scarce and costly. In addition, increase in population and pressure on available resources that have diminished significantly over time makes it easier for people to encroach on forests. Therefore, forests become an alternative source of resources such as land and lumber. However, the proliferation of illegal activities and trade is among the reasons for deforestation. For instance, in Colombia, deforestation has been driven by criminal and illegal enterprises (Davalos et al. 1219). These have opted to encroach on forests to create room for their coca plantations in spite of the government’s action to mitigate the impacts associated with drug-related activities.
While creating room for coca plants that produce cocaine, an illegal substance that has been attributed as the most prevalent driver for deforestation in Colombia, other factors have been overlooked (Davalos et al. 1220). Deforestation for the sole purpose of creating room for coca plants is not the underlying cause; therefore, the encroachment and destruction of forests has been caused by various factors. These include an increase in population, poor and degenerative social-economic conditions for the people, and scarcity of critical resources that are needed to sustain the increasing population.
Global populations have been increasing at such rapid rate that the available resources are unable to sustain the current human population. Therefore, since land is a vital resource, people opt to encroach into forest lands for agricultural purposes, and in this case, the primary cash crop is the coca plant. Since social-economic conditions in the country have left a significant percentage of people below the poverty line, they choose to seek a better alternative that can only be found in the drug trade. The government's failure to implement rural development initiatives that can provide people with sources of income and economic growth is a contributing factor to the problem. This has led to the escalating deforestation rates that have continued to increase gradually each year.
As the population increase, so does the pressure on existing resources that are poorly developed and are incapable of creating value for the people. Therefore, the presence of drug cartels in the region presents a rare opportunity for the people to generate income; however, the implications for the forests are detrimental (Davalos et al. 1224). The inadequacy of the government in creating job opportunities for the youth, development of infrastructure and enforcing comprehensive policies on drugs is among the key issues that contribute towards deforestation. Evidently, the deforestation problem in not unique to Colombia but is prevalent in many countries including Amazon countries.
Implications of Illegal Drug Production for the Ecosystems
Forests are critical in the preservation of favorable environmental and climatic conditions in the world; however, the increased deforestation rates have escalated current global challenges. The destruction of the ecosystem can be described as the most detrimental outcome. Various ecosystems are the home of varied biodiversity; hence, plants, animals and microorganisms that are critical to the environment and human posterity are found in these areas. However, human beings do not take into consideration the long-term outcomes of their actions, including the posterity of human beings as species.
Deforestation has the implication of causing water catchment areas to dry, killing critical ecosystem and the organisms that live therein. In addition, forests have a direct impact on the climate and environment since they are a key part of the water cycle (Gorte and Sheikh 21). Therefore, deforestation removes a critical component that aids in the regulation of seasons and weather patterns. The increase in global warming, prolonged periods of drought, excessive rainfalls and erratic weather pattern can all be linked to deforestation on a global scale.
Forests provide cover for critical organisms and microorganisms that contribute towards sustaining the life cycles. Therefore, deforestation causes these organisms to die since they cannot survive in the absence of forest cover, or they are forced to relocate to less favorable areas where they cannot survive. Meanwhile, since water forests are the primary water catchment areas, rivers begin to dry while the impacts of global warming cause the ice caps to melt hence causing the sea level to rise and natural disasters such as tsunamis to increase. Forests can be described as a regulator of global heat levels and consistency of the weather and seasons (Gorte and Sheikh 21). Though coca planters may not be aware of the long-term implications of their actions, the government is fully aware of them and has taken initiatives to prevent the escalation of both the drug problems and deforestation.
Since coca is an illegal crop, growers seek areas that cannot be easily found or accessed by government agencies; therefore, forests offer the optimal solution for the establishment of an illegal crop. The move to use forest areas for growing coca requires clearing of land. Though this may be the outcome of deterring the growing of illegal crops, it may translate to deforestation since it requires creating new room for the coca plants (Davalos et al. 1225). In addition, when government agencies find and destroy the coca plants, the growers are compelled to seek alternative areas in order to re-establish their coca growing business. Meanwhile, the reclaimed land is placed under the protection of the government even though deforestation has already taken place. In addition to government agencies, drug trade involves turf wars and conflicts that cause some of the growers to move to other areas of the forest or expand their existing coca plantations (Davalos et al. 1225). Such actions require new parcels of land that can only be acquired in the forest away from urban areas and law enforcement agencies.
Though the intervention of government agencies aims at eliminating the drug problem, the eradication of coca plantation may render people who work in these plantations unemployed and searching for gainful economic activity. Evidently, the government may not have adequate resources to employ these people or create projects that will benefit them financially. Since they are mostly poor farmers who do not have adequate farms or resources, they invade forests causing deforestation. Therefore, the deforestation problem in areas that grow and produce drugs will persist irrespective of the government’s actions.
The consequences of growing illegal crops lead to deforestation; however, eradication of the same causes more deforestation in an attempt to relocate coca farmers. In spite of these possible outcomes, the government can prevent this. It is evident that the primary driver for deforestation is the government’s inadequacy in addressing poverty and development in rural areas (Davalos et al. 1224). The creation of development projects that will create employment for the poor including investments in the production of agricultural products will reduce the incidence of forest encroachment. Deforestation and unemployment are highly correlated; therefore, the solution to deforestation is creating jobs and opportunities for the poor in rural regions.
The ecological effects of growing coca plants in forest lands have led to the destruction of rare species of biodiversity that cannot be found in other parts of the world (Strassburg et al. 350). Though parts of the forest are under protection with the aim of preserving the ecosystem and biodiversity therein, these strategies are not enough. The escalating deforestation problem should be mitigated through the implementation of comprehensive forest protection strategy that involves the entire forest region. The protection of a larger and wider area of the forest will ensure more species and forest ecosystem are protected. In addition, water catchment areas, water cycle and regulation of global weather patterns will be preserved.
Socio-economic factors continue to motivate the escalation of the drug trade causing massive deforestation and subsequent destruction of ecosystems. Consequently, rare species of varied biodiversity are destroyed, climatic conditions and degradation of the environment escalated. Though illegal drug crops contribute to deforestation, a combination of various factors including poverty, population increase and scarcity of resources are directly linked to the high rates of deforestation.
The implementation of comprehensive strategies that are not limited to the affected country but implemented on a global scale will be effective in deterring deforestation. In spite of Colombia being a primary source of cocaine, other countries face similar challenges that threaten forest ecosystems and biodiversity. Therefore, a global policy that seeks pooling of resources and expertise is need to ensure critical ecosystem are not used to hide and perpetuate illegal crops such as the coca growing in Colombian forests.
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