The coca leaf is the next big thing
The coca leaf has picked up a bad reputation over the years. Its status as the key ingredient at the base of the global cocaine trade has led many to see it as a fundamentally bad thing to grow – but to allow cocaine to define the coca plant tells only half the story.
Cocaine is made from a particular alkaloid – a plant based organic compound – present in coca leaves, but it is only one of many. The rest of the alkaloids present in the leaf do not possess narcotic qualities and are widely believed to be beneficial.
It is these beneficial aspects which Bolivia is betting on to create a new industry. From its roots as an almost divine plant for the indigenous people and the mythical base of the ancient Andean cosmological theory, through its reinvention as a key part of the murderous international drug trade, coca is now ready to step into the spotlight again as a force for good.
Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and has been looking for an economic lifeline for many years. The USA’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) waged a multi-decade war on the nation’s coca farmers – the wonderfully named cocaleros - due to their role in the production of cocaine, but the policy was by no means a success. In response the current Bolivian president, Evo Morales, threw the DEA out of Bolivia almost a decade ago, opening the door for legal coca farming and industries.
The coca leaf – whether chewed, turned into flour or used to brew tea – is credited with having a remarkable ability to oxygenate blood as well as being packed with iron, protein, riboflavin, vitamins A and B, phosphorus and calcium. This is not to say that it is definitely the next ‘super food’ as it is hard to get the funding to test such a stigmatised plant, but the people who know it best all seem to be convinced. It is a key part of the diet for many indigenous people, including Carmelo Flores Laura – one of the oldest people in the world at the time of his death – who claimed daily chewing of coca was one of the main reasons he lived so long.
This is the reputation that a budding class of Bolivian businessmen want to promote and tap into. Entrepreneurs are busy getting the right permits and building the facilities to make liqueurs, energy drinks, tea, medicines and much more from the leaf.
As a product to invest in, the market is probably not mature enough yet for the vast majority of investors. Most coca products are in a very early stage of development, and the industry as a whole is under a lot of international scrutiny. For instance, coverage of the nascent industry has noted that coca products are unlikely to ever be on sale in the USA due to political pressures.
However, the industry has the weight of a country behind it with a government investing heavily in research and marketing. This is certainly one of the riskier investment markets we have covered at Global Property Scene, but it is a genuine opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something with real potential, and is therefore surely worth a look.