Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Coca pesticides posing threat to Bolivian bees



Coca pesticides posing threat to Bolivian bees

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A coca farmer sprays his coca crop outside of Coroico, Bolivia. The use of pesticides in coca fields threaten the survival of bees in the country. afp

Coca pesticides posing threat to Bolivian bees

HIGH up in the Bolivian cloud forest, a woman tends to her bees, smoker in hand, working from hive to hive under a canopy of leaves to delicately gather panels of honeycomb. It’s a bucolic scene that experts say won’t last, for the bees are dying.

The culprit – as in so many other cases across the world – is pesticide. The difference in Bolivia is that pesticide use, along with the coca plantations it is being used to protect, is on the rise.

Environmentalists and beekeepers like Rene Villca say the bee population is being decimated by massive and intensive use of chemical pesticides to protect the region’s biggest cash crop.

Here in the idyllic Nor Yungas region north of the cloud-high capital La Paz, the pesticides are taking a toll on Villca’s hives.

“Of the 20 hives I have, 10 are producing normally and 10 are not,” Villca said.

On another part of the mountain where Nancy Carlo Estrada tends to her bees, a canopy of protective netting around her head, Exalto Mamami wades through a waist-high coca plantation, pumping out liquid pesticide from a canister on his back, face covered with a long cloth against harmful blowback from the spray.

He is all too aware of the pesticide’s toxicity, but has other priorities.

“We use pesticides because the pests eat through the coca leaves and this affects our income. The plants can dry out and that way we as coca farmers lose out economically,” said Mamani.

The sale of coca leaves – the base component of cocaine – is legal in this part of Bolivia. They are sold openly for traditional use in the local towns. It is chewed, used for making teas, and in religious and cultural ceremonies.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
In idyllic Nor Yungas region north of the cloud-high capital La Paz, the pesticides are taking a toll on Villca’s hives. WILLIAM WROBLEWSKI/afp

Coca cultivation expanding

According to the latest survey by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Bolivia has 24,500ha under coca cultivation, an increase of 7.0 per cent in a year.

The government is collaborating with the UNODC in alternate development programs but despite this, between 35 and 48 percent is destined for cocaine production.

On the steep slopes of the region’s valleys, the lush forest is pockmarked with small plots of coca arranged in terraces.

“The area of coca cultivation has expanded and the native forest has been reduced to alarming levels,” said Miguel Limachi, an entomologist at La Paz’s San Andres University.

Limachi says the expansion of coca cultivation has helped to destroy other plants that provide a natural defence against the coca-leaf pests, particularly the Tussock Moth.

In other parts of the Andes, the pale moth has been used as a biological weapon against coca cultivation.

“A monoculture is more at risk from pests or fungi because there is no longer native vegetation – there are no natural controllers,” Limachi explained. “And then more pesticides are used in higher concentrations.”

Harmful organophosphates in the pesticides mean the bees – “a social insect and extremely organised,” according to Limachi – become disorganized, and less able to feed and care for larvae.

In recent years across the globe, bees have been mysteriously dying off from “colony collapse disorder” blamed party on pesticides, but also on mites, viruses and fungi.

The danger of increased pesticide use in the Bolivian highlands is that they “remain in the soil, on the surface of the plants and obviously contaminate all the organisms present – both the growers themselves, their children and their families, and the wildlife”, Limachi said.

Pesticides are also used to protect other crops in the country such as coffee plantations and some tropical fruits.

‘Growers have no choice’

For Exalto Mamani, there is no other option but to use pesticides.

“Many of the coca growers are aware that we are affecting the environment with these chemicals, but we have no other alternative because the coca supports us and gives us the economy to support our family,” he said.

He says climate change has meant coca leaf pests are on the increase.

Limachi agrees that climate change has played a role in reducing bee populations.

“Very dry years and other years that have too much rain change the availability of flowers from which the bees use to feed the hives,” he said.

Other human factors also play a role, he said.

“Electromagnetic pollution, the emission of cellular waves, microwaves, radios, television . . . all that can affect their communication and the operation of the hive because they interrupt processes such as food collection, care of the larvae or cleanliness of the colony,” said Limachi.

On the lush steep slopes around Coroico, beekeeper Villca has no doubt about the immediate threat to his bees.

“We hope that the coca producers realise the value of this golden insect,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Cambodia purchases 4 million Molnupiravir tablets

    Cambodia has arranged for the purchase of four million US-made Molnupiravir pills – enough to treat 100,000 Covid-19 patients – even though the current rate of daily infections in Cambodia remains low. The medicine will be distributed to state hospitals, pharmacies and private clinics, according to the Samdech

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • Is Cambodia’s travel sector in for another cheerless holiday season?

    The travel and tourism sector was heaving back to life as borders started to reopen, promising a festive vibe for the holidays and New Year. But Omicron and other Covid-related issues are threatening to close the year on a bleak note ‘Seems [like] Covid-19 won’

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • Cambodia planning new border checkpoint at Thma Da

    Cambodia is looking into the possibility of opening a new Thma Da Border Checkpoint with Thailand to boost trade and tourism. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport said on December 4 that Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol led a technical working group