Why is coca only cultivated in South America?
July 12, 2007 8:40 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to know about cocaine, please. Actually I want to know about coca, and why it's only grown commercially in South America? Why don't they grow it in the Golden Triangle, for example? I've seen a coca bush growing in Sri Lanka, so clearly it can be cultivated in other areas. And why don't people try to grow it hydroponically? Also, how much coca leaf does it take to make a gram of cocaine?

I don't intend to become a coca farmer, just curious.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
As per the latest UN World Drug Report, 156,900 hectares of coca yields potentially 292,430 metric tons of dry coca leaf, from which 984 metric tons of cocaine can be potentially produced. Ignoring that these are educated guesses, they are still rough because yields are different across production sites.

But anyway,

1 hectare gets you 1.864 metric tons of dry coca leaf.

1 metric ton of dry coca leaf gets you 0.0034 metric tons of cocaine.

So, to answer your last question, 297 grams of dry coca leaf will give you 1 gram of cocaine.
posted by daksya at 9:15 PM on July 12, 2007

I've wondered the same thing (why cocaine production seems to be restricted to South America). I've got two theories (the less polite might call them guesses)

1. Is altitude one of the things required to produce the right type of coca ? - certainly many parts of Columbia are significant heights above sea level.

2. Is it a marketing thing ? The guys in Columbia etc are the go-to guys for Cocaine and for the Golden Triangle suppliers to start distributing Cocaine would be as difficult as, say, IBM to start selling cars. Not impossible but tricky.
posted by southof40 at 9:36 PM on July 12, 2007

My guess is that if you've got a hydroponic setup and you want coke, the easiest thing to do is grow weed, sell it, and buy coke. That is to say, weed is just more economically profitable in terms of hydroponic growth, and since it can be exchanged for coke, and doesn't require processing why bother growing coke?
posted by delmoi at 9:50 PM on July 12, 2007

Apparently it wasn't always this way:

Early 1930's: Japan is the world's leading cocaine producer (23.3%) followed by the United States (21.3%), Germany (15%), U.K. (9.9%), France (8.3%).
posted by desjardins at 9:55 PM on July 12, 2007

So, to answer your last question, 297 grams of dry coca leaf will give you 1 gram of cocaine.

Based on your figures, it would take about 1.59 square meters to grow enough coca to make one gram of cocane. That's about one closet worth, and that works out to about $80-$100 depending on where you live. On the other hand, you could probably grow 3 or 4 weed plants with that much space, which could make you $10k if you do it right.
posted by delmoi at 10:01 PM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Coca is native to South America, and it's been used by indigenous groups there for centuries (I think for fibers as well as consumption). This is part of why many South American governments and political parties are unhappy with the war on drugs - it has lead to the criminalization of a plant they've used for non-nose-candy purposes for a long time.

I imagine that in Europe and Asia, the easy availability of opium has filled a similar cultural (and drug-habit) gap.

It could be a marketing thing as southof40 suggests, although in our globalized drug trade, I imagine it's not marketing as much as "if you bastards start growing cocaine, heads will roll" kind of thing.

On preview: I'm guessing that coca was exported for cocaine production until 1. industrialized countries started cracking down on drug production and 2. whatever know-how it takes to produce coke becomes more commonplace in South America.
posted by dismas at 10:03 PM on July 12, 2007

Response by poster: The guys in Columbia etc are the go-to guys for Cocaine and for the Golden Triangle suppliers to start distributing Cocaine would be as difficult as, say, IBM to start selling cars. Not impossible but tricky.

The drug gangs in the Golden Triangle made the transition from heroin to methamphetamines pretty smoothly. If they can set up meth labs and distribute yaa baa surely they could set up coke labs and do the same?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:13 PM on July 12, 2007

(By growing cocaine, I mean producing and distributing it in large quantities. Yeah. Feel a little silly)
posted by dismas at 11:19 PM on July 12, 2007

As far as memory serves, coca is indigenous to the South American highlands.
It's like essence of just about anything. Rose extract takes a very large quantity of rose petals, except those rose petals are fresh. Coca leaves are not that concentrated or moisture intense, and a closetful of coca leaves are difficult to hide where they don't grow naturally.
posted by lilithim at 11:30 PM on July 12, 2007

Best answer: I would guess simple economics. Coca probably grows very well in South America, better than anywhere else. And they have the copious real estate required to grow large quantities needed for production of cocaine. It's not that no one else can grow it, it's that no one can do it as well and as cheaply.

I'm just conjecturing but so much of the drug war makes sense only through the eyes of economics that I'd bet this is the reason why they seem to have a monopoly.
posted by chairface at 11:35 PM on July 12, 2007

Dismas - The Europeans tried to export coca leaves from South America, but they simply couldn't make the trip. Instead, they set up plantations in their colonies (I believe that's how Japan ended up as the leading coca producer for a time - they didn't grow it domestically, that's for sure). If I remember correctly (I read a great deal about cocaine at one point - purely for academic inquiry, I assure you), the South American varieties of the coca plant yield vastly superior cocaine, and they simply will not grow well anywhere else. If you're looking to produce mass quantities of cocaine, you want to use South American plants, and you have to grow them in South America.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 7:00 AM on July 13, 2007

A little late to the party...

Not sure if this information is too basic for you, but i found this video on youtube months ago. The original version that i had favorited had subtitles that told you what he was mixing in.. I dont think this version has that, but if you poke around in related searches i think there is another version but its not in english and the quality isn't as clear.

Anyway i found it very interesting. Its the process of how cocaine is made from harvesting the plant, to drying it, processing it and adding everything from bleach to gasoline to sulfuric acid (i think its sulfuric acid. not sure.).
posted by modernsquid at 7:13 AM on July 13, 2007

Thsi book is a good resource for your questions.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 8:19 AM on July 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

you could probably grow 3 or 4 weed plants with that much space, which could make you $10k if you do it right.

Dude, are you serious? 3 or 4 plants yielding enough to turn around for ten large? Either you've got a magic closet or some customers with the most unfortunate cents:sense ratio of all time.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:45 AM on July 13, 2007

Not to derail, but you can get about a pound of pot from each plant (plus a fair amount of hash from the leavings, and butter etc.). At $80 for an 1/8th of an ounce for kind bud (the medical marijuana price around here), and 16 ounces to a pound, that's over $10k ($10,240). So, with three or four plants, you could end up with more than I make in a year, less operating expenses.

Much more economical than coke, especially given the overhead and penalties.
posted by klangklangston at 11:26 AM on July 13, 2007

A pound from a single plant? In a closet? That boggles my mind.

$80 1/8? I certainly don't envy Cali prices. And someone who's growing enough to yield several pounds is really gonna be making that many small transactions?

I definitely agree, growing pot can certainly be more lucrative than trying to grow coca bushes, but numbers like that just don't seem realistic to me. It's like when the "street value" of seized drugs is reported, the difference between wholesale and retail isn't being taken into account at all.

IANADKP (I am not a drug kingpin)
posted by solipsophistocracy at 11:55 AM on July 13, 2007

Watch the video that modernsquid posted, and you'll start to understand more of the barriers to closet based cocaine manufacturing. Apparently, you have to do a lot of [toxic] stuff to those leaves before they become cocaine.
posted by Area Control at 12:23 PM on July 13, 2007

I, um, have this friend who managed to get an average of a pound of high-quality pot out of each plant in a closet grow op. However, they sold relatively little and what they did sell tended to be in larger quantities. It did take insane amounts of tending though.

But it is theoretically possible, especially with delmoi's claim of being able to get $10k out of a closet as a whole— if you can get a QP from each of your four plants, and sell it in eighths, you're still there at ten grand.
posted by klangklangston at 12:34 PM on July 13, 2007

I was talking about about getting high yields of very potent weed, which would still probably be easier then growing coca. And you can do it several times a year as well.
posted by delmoi at 1:02 PM on July 13, 2007

The book that mustcatchmooseandsquirrel links to ("Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography") is one of the ones I read in my "studies," and is definitely a worthy read. The author is a little too cute & clever at times, but his research is seriously thorough and he covers an enormous amount of history, including the political, social and economic history of the drug. Highly recommended. It would most certainly answer your question, and just about any other you might have. (His research on the invention of crack is revelatory to say the least.)
posted by Banky_Edwards at 4:33 PM on July 13, 2007

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