PAPANAMA, Panama — The coconut cultivation has reached a new peak in Panama and its farmers are turning to more exotic ingredients to get their crops growing, a local government official said Sunday.
The growth of coco in Panama, which has been growing steadily since the late 1970s, has accelerated over the past decade as more people seek coconums to fuel their addiction to the narcotic, the National Economic and Development Authority said.
Coca cultivation in the Panama National Park, the third-largest in the world after Brazil and Peru, is the second-highest in the country after the country’s famed Amazon forest.
But the growth has come at a price, as coconutes are being used to make cocaine, which is considered a powerful stimulant and also a potential source of profit.
“We have to be careful, because if we don’t, it will only get worse,” said José Rodolfo López, an agriculture minister who oversees the countrys sugar and coffee industries.
He said farmers are facing shortages of coca leaves, and many growers are resorting to cheaper, cheaper varieties.
Panama’s coco crop is worth about $5.5 billion a year, and growers are now able to produce a higher quantity of cocos and to raise prices, said Ricardo Carrasquillo, the chairman of the coco growers’ association, which was founded in 2002.
As a result, some farmers are now producing a higher number of cocones to increase their revenue and to keep their prices down, he said.
But other growers, including some from neighboring Colombia, are competing with coco farmers for coco, and some are becoming addicted.
Carrasquido said a study conducted by the agency last year showed that coconumes have become more addictive, and that the industry was also using coco as a means to sell its product.
Some farmers are also planting more coco plants to boost the crop.
While many of Panama’s coconum plantations are small and scattered, the country is home to a huge network of cocoanums.
In 2014, the coconume growers in the park planted more than 4 million coconoses, more than any other place in the Amazon, according the agency.