To fight illegal coca plantations and conflict actors’ income sources, Colombia’s president wants to loosen the ban on aerial glyphosate spraying. However, considering the dynamics of organised crime, the use of toxic herbicides will not only fail to achieve its aim, it will have many adverse effects for the environment and human health, fundamentally undermining ways to reach peace in the country. International cooperation and national policy-makers need to account for this peace spoiler.
In spring 2019, Colombian president Duque filed a request before the Constitutional Court to loosen its 2015 ban of aerial spraying of coca plantations with glyphosate. His goal is to reduce production of cocaine - the largest illegal agribusiness in Colombia. Glyphosate has long been used in large-scale aerial herbicide spraying programmes in Latin and South America to fight drug business.
Studies have analysed environmental and health-related consequences of herbicide use, such as soil erosion and chemical pollution. However, the full range of adverse effects for environment and peace only becomes apparent when the intricacies of organised crime in a fragile post-conflict setting are illuminated.
Between 2013 and 2017, coca growth had increased by 64% in Colombia. Under ex-president Santos the substitution of those crops for legal ones, having financed decades of conflict, became an essential element of the peacebuilding agenda. His successor Duque argues aerial spraying is a safe and efficient complementary strategy as manual eradicators often die due to landmines. International attention arose when President Trump assured a 46% increase in US-budget to fight drug trafficking in Colombia should it allow aerial spraying.
However, when considering the workings of organised crime, the strategy will likely fail to address root causes of problems and will have adverse effects on both peace and environmental health.
Duque’s request has not yet been granted. Regardless of the outcome, the workings of organised crime in post-conflict settings are well-studied by researchers and should, for the sake of the environment and peace process, be regarded when shaping policies and forging international cooperation in such contexts.
Johanna Kleffmann holds a Master’s degree in Political Science and has done research on security and peace, recently in Colombia where her field research focussed on international peacebuilding’s mitigation strategies towards organised crime in a post-conflict setting.