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Time to End the Fumigation in Colombia

(Photo: Jeremy Bigwood / AIDA)

At A Glance

Although the herbicide used on the coca crops—Roundup—is used extensively throughout the world, it is sprayed in Colombia in concentrations that would be permitted in the United States only to completely clear a forest, or for spot application to railroad tracks or parking lots.

Roundup is prohibited for use over water bodies. Nevertheless it is being sprayed on tropical forests and cloud forest ecosystems.

Colombia has some of the world's greatest amphibian biodiversity, and studies show that as many as 50% of amphibians exposed to the spray mixture in early developmental stages die.


The United States has spent more than a half billion dollars in Colombia on a drug eradication program that does not work.

Despite spraying 3 million acres of Colombia with chemicals, the amount of land used to grow coca for drug production continues to increase. Aerial spraying is not eradicating the drug trade.

So Earthjustice and our allies are again asking the question, "Why do we continue to pay for coca fumigation in Colombia?"

Health and Environmental Impacts

More than 10,000 farmers in Colombia have reported having food crops destroyed by anti-drug fumigation programs, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Health reports that there is "credible and trustworthy evidence" that fumigations are harmful to human health.

The chemical mixture used in Colombia has never been proven safe for human exposure at the concentrations used. Evidence of non-targeted plant and food crop destruction, and likely harms to sensitive wildlife, continues to mount.

What's worse, the program has done nothing to reduce the amount of cocaine flowing to U.S. markets.

According to the U.S. government's own studies, the land devoted to coca cultivation in Colombia has actually increased by 23 percent since the U.S.-backed fumigation began. Meanwhile, Colombia remains the leading supplier of cocaine for U.S. markets.

After fumigation, low-income farmers whose only marketable crop is coca simply relocate, moving deeper into the forest and clearing new areas. The environmental impacts have been disastrous. As land is cleared for new farms, precious ecosystems are lost. This practice is devastating in a country with the world's second highest biodiversity.

U.S.-funded fumigation has even occurred in some of Colombia's national parks.

A Failed Program: A Better Alternative

When the data clearly show that a program has failed, it is time to rethink that program. U.S. taxpayers deserve to know their funds are being used in the most effective way possible.

Dumping chemicals on rural Colombia, while profitable for chemical manufacturers, has not fixed the drug problem, and it likely never will.

Earthjustice is calling for a new anti-drug policy in Colombia that invests in development and alternative crop programs that provide farmers a path out of the drug trade.

Alternative economic support will not only provide sustainable employment for low-income farmers, it will help reduce the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia.

Credit: AIDA.
AIDA opposes the widespread use of chemicals to eradicate coca, poppy, and other crops grown for illicit use. The spraying has been criticized for being ineffective and for causing significant environmental, social, and economic damage in Colombia. (Photo: AIDA)