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Tuesday, 6 June, 2000, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
My story: The coca grower
Celestino Quispe, a coca-growing peasant, was interviewed in the Coca market of Bolivia's capital, La Paz:

Bolivia coca growers
Coca growers say they have no other option
"Coca is a means of survival for us. Because the soil is very tired, very eroded. Coca leaves are the only option we have for earning a living to feed ourselves and our families.

"We can't substitute it with other products like citrus fruits or coffee. Citrus fruits are very cheap. There are supplies sitting there rotting. I would not be able to feed my family by growing citrus fruits.

My children are able to study, which I was not - coca leaves allow me to pay for their education

"Coffee is annual, whereas I can harvest coca leaves three times a year. It does go down in price sometimes, but we always manage with coca. True, we have to re-plant every five or six years because the soil has to be renovated. But we can earn a living.

"You get much more money for coca leaves than you do for oranges. It's a very big difference in price. And oranges are heavy, so by the time you've paid for the transport to get them to the market, there is nothing left for the producer.

Children's future

"I have five children. Coca leaves allow me to pay for their education. My children are able to study, which I was not.

"I have little choice in what I can do for a living now, but I am trying to make sure that they get qualifications. I would like for them to be able to choose what they want to do in the future. An education is very important, because it will give them choice: they will be able to decide whether they want to grow coca like me, or do something different, something better.

"Also, remember that coca leaves are not all bad. They are not only used to feed a habit. Coca leaves are also medicinal, and a source of a traditional, legal beverage.

"There are no cocalero drug addicts. It's the "gringos" who have processed the coca leaves with chemical products as a drug. We don't do that because we want to sell the leaves, not consume them, and also because we don't want our leaf's reputation to be even worse than it is now."

Interview by BBC Mundo

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