Coca Chewing, Geography and Nutrition


1. The chewing of coca leaf1
II. Geography
III. Nutrition
IV. Conclusions


Pages: 2 to 13
Creation Date: 1950/01/01

General Section

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Coca Chewing, Geography and Nutrition

1. The chewing of coca leaf1

Coca-leaf chewing, or "coqueo" as it is called, is related to a wide diversity of factors: social, economic, biopsychological, cultural, geographical, nutritional, etc. In this paper, climate altitude and nutrition will be considered.

It is a widely held opinion that because of these three factors coca-leaf chewing can to a great extent be regarded as a necessity in some parts of South America. The purpose of this paper is to inquire whether the generalization is correct or not.

The three closely interrelated factors are studied in the light of social, economic and cultural factors, as well as to strictly geographical and nutritional considerations, since geography and nutrition are closely related to various social, economic and cultural factors and vice versa.


For a general study of coca-leaf chewing and its effects, and the possibility of restricting the production and chewing of the coca leaf, see the Report of the United Nations Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf, document E/1666 (E/CN.7/AC.2/1). See also "Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf" in the United Nations Bulletin on Narcotics, No. 1, October 1949, page 20.

Coca-leaf chewing occurs to a greater or lesser extent in a number of South America countries, particularly in Peru and Bolivia, followed in importance by Colombia and the north of the Argentine Republic. Coca is also chewed to a lesser extent in small areas of Brazil and Venezuela. In Ecuador, it is generally held that the habit has practically disappeared.

In the present paper, only Peru and Bolivia have been considered.

II. Geography


Before considering whether climate and altitude are determinig factors in coca-leaf chewing, it is necessary to examine various eographcal features of Peru and Bolivia.

A. Peru

Peru is divided into three zones: the coastal belt, the sierra and the selva or montaña. Approximate total area: 1,250,000 square kilometres; population: 7,023,111.

The coastal belt: The coastal belt which is 1,800 kilometres long and 80 to 120 kilometres wide varies in height from sea level to 1,750 metres. It represents 11.5 per cent of the total area of the country and contains 25.15 per cent of the total population. It is in this zone that the internal and external movement of population in Peru is greatest. Most of the migrants to the coastal belt from other parts of Peru are inhabitants of the sierra. The result is that, according to the 1940 census, 12 per cent of the coastal population are Natives of the sierra. This partly explains the existence of coca-leaf chewing in the low coastal belt but not wholly since it is practised in the coastal zone for reasons that have nothing to do with altitude or with the ethnic origin of most of the inhabitants of the sierra. It is for such reasons that more or less large groups of the Natives of the coastal belt also chew coca.

The following features of this zone should also be noted:

  1. The mestizo and white population outnumbers the Indian;2

  2. The urban population is greater than the rural;

  3. Illiteracy is less than in the sierra;

  4. It has the most important manufacturing industries in Peru.

The sierra: The altitude varies between 1,750 and 3,500 to 4,000 metres. Above this altitude is the thinly inhabited puna.

By its very nature the sierra does not constitute a unit and its topography is extremely irregular. Two facts must be noted:

  1. The coca-producing areas are dispersed but concentrated locally; and

  2. The coca-chewing areas are dispersed but concentrated locally.

The contradiction is only apparent and is due to the simultaneous effects of two sets of factors:

  1. Geographical: climate, water, altitude etc.; and

  2. Social and economic: living and working conditions, nutrition, etc.

The sierra occupies almost 27 per cent of the total area of Peru and contains 61.66 per cent of its population; 98.25 per cent of the population are Natives of the sierra. The almost total absence of internal and external migration, combined with the other factors mentioned, also explains the regional concentration of the coca-chewing population.


The 1940 census does not give separate percentages for whites and mestizos.

Because of its share of the population the sierra constitutes the nucleus of the population of Peru and it therefore seems logical to suppose that the harmful effects of coca chewing, which is practised in this zone to a greater extent than in the others, must have repercussions over a large part of the country.3 Further, since Peru is a predominantly agricultural country and the sierra is the most important region from the agricultural point of view, it may be assumed that the harmful effects will adversely affect not only agricultural production but living conditions which are based upon it.

Other features of the sierra are:

  1. The population is predominantly Indian. Most of the Indians are Quechuas and Aymaras, the former being much more numerous than the latter. They normally live in different areas;

  2. The rural population is larger than the urban;

  3. Illiteracy is extremely high;

  4. Mining is of great importance in some places.

The selva or montana: This zone occupies the greatest area of Peru-61.33 per cent-but is the most sparsely inhabited with 13.19 per cent of the total population.

Of the three zones considered, it may be said to have the greatest geographical unity. It forms part of the vast Amazon basin; 97.1 per cent of the population is indigenous. Most of the few immigrants-only 1.94 per cent of the population-come from the sierra and appear to be largely Indians and mestizos. Little coca leaf is produced or chewed. The following basic characteristics should be noted:

  1. The population is mainly mestizo and white;

  2. The rural population outnumbers the urban;

  3. Illiteracy seems in some cases to be relatively less than in the coastal zone and consequently, than in the sierra.

B. Bolivia

Bolivia is usually regarded as being divided into two major regions: the altiplano and the eastern zone or llanos. In reality, an intermediate region of irregular form and great economic importance, consisting of the valleys and yungas, must be distinguished.

The altiplano: This is a region similar in some respects to the sierra of Peru. It extends over approximately 100,000 square kilometres between the Western Cordillera and the Eastern Cordillera, or Cordillera Real. Economically, the latter is more important than the former because of its mineral wealth. The principal characteristics are:


For the harmful effects of coca-leaf chewing, see the Report referred to in footnote 1.

  1. Average altitude 3,600 metres;

  2. Population predominantly Indian, the majority being Quechuas and Aymaras;

  3. The principal concentrations of population are found in the altiplano, notably in La Paz and Potosí. The rural population is substantial and consists principally of Indians and secondarily of mestizos;

  4. The principal productive activity is mining, but potatoes, quinua, barley, wheat, etc. are grown. There are areas suitable for large-scale farming, particularly in the vicinity of Lake Titicaca, and also for stock-raising. In general, it is thought that large areas of the plateau could become important agriculturally if an adequate system of irrigation were established in certain regions;4

  5. There is no coca-leaf production;

  6. Coca-leaf chewing, however, occurs extensively throughout the altiplano;

  7. Illiteracy is high.

Valleys and yungas.5 These form intermediate zones between the altiplano, and more particularly the Cordillera Oriental, and the plains or llanos.

The valleys and yungas may be considered in three separate zones:

North: In the department of La Paz. The most important are those of Pelechuco, Camata, Tipuani, Zongo, Coroico, Coripata, Chulumani and Irupana.

Centre: In the department of Cochabamba, extending into the departments of Chuquisaca, Potosí and Santa Cruz.

South: In the departments of Chuquisaca and Tarija. The most important general characteristics of the valleys and yungas are:

  1. The population is predominantly Indian;

  2. The rural population outnumbers the urban;

  3. Illiteracy is less widespread than in the altiplano;

  4. Agriculture is the most important productive activity;

  5. Economically, the production of coca leaf probably the principal source of income;

  6. Coca-leaf chewing is very widespread, particularly among the small farmers and labourers.


The river Viscachani, Tachagua and Desaguadero schemes should be mentioned.


The term "valley" is generally applied to the spurs of the Eastern Cordillera or Cordillera Real, which have a semi-tropical climate and luxuriant vegetation. The altitude is normally less than 2,000 metres. "Yungas" are lowlands with the same climate and abundant vegetation; they are normally under 1,000 metres. There is no strict demarcation between the two regions and the term "yungas" frequently has a more general meaning than merely a lowland or small valley.

The llanos or eastern zone: This region has special features with regard to population, geography and production; the most important are:

  1. The population is predominantly Indian, the most important ethnic groups being the Pampeano and the Guaran?;

  2. The rural population outnumbers the urban;

  3. Illiteracy is very high;

  4. The main productive activity is agriculture and stock-raising;

  5. A small amount of coca leaf is produced in the vicinity of the city of Santa Cruz and Valle Grande;

  6. Coca-leaf chewing occurs to a limited extent in these areas and in the Tarija area.


It has frequently been stated that the extremely harsh climate of the regions where coca-leaf chewing is most prevalent is an essential factor in causing the habit.

Without denying the possible general influence of climate, as a physical factor, on the habits of men, it must be recognized that the coca-leaf is chewed in Peru and Bolivia in regions with widely differing climatic conditions. It can therefore be concluded that in any case the cold, harsh climate of the plateau regions is not a determining factor in coca-leaf chewing since the habit is found in regions with a semi-tropical climate and in others with moderate temperatures and humidity. Moreover, in the areas with severe climates, there are large groups of the population which do not chew coca leaf.

Although not an exhaustive enumeration of the places in which coca-leaf chewing is practised to a greater or lesser extent under different climatic conditions, the following list of coca-chewing areas is sufficient to support this contention:


  1. The Tingo María and Quillabamba districts; both are situated in the Departments of Hu ánuco and Cuzco and are semi-tropical. Both are also important coca-producing areas.

  2. The coastal districts of Lambeyeque and Trujillo where the climate is humid and the temperature varies between 13° and 15°C. Trujillo is also an important coca-producing area.

  3. Lima, the capital and Callao, with a humid, moderate climate. Coca-leaf chewing occurs to a limited extent. They are not producing areas.

  4. The coastal districts of Ica (particularly Nasca), Arequipa (Chala), Tacna and the islands of San Lorenzo, where the climate is generally humid and temperate.

  5. Huánuco, the capital, and its vicinity, with an intermediate but very dry climate. The department of Hu ánuco is the third largest coca-chewing centre and one of the principal producing areas.

  6. Puno, Cuzco, Cerro de Pasco and Junin, where the temperatures are low, especially in winter. The first two are the most important coca-chewing centres. In Cuzco, where the relief is very varied, coca-leaf chewing is practised in both the highlands and the valleys: Quillabamba, Lares, Urubamba, etc., and even in areas such as Santa Isabel at lower altitude.


  1. The semi-tropical region of the yungas (Coroico, Coripata, Chulumani, Huancan?, Irupana etc.). These are also the most important producing centres. Mean annual temperature 23°C.

  2. The yungas and valleys of Cochabamba, Tarata, Cliza, Punata, Arani, Tiraque, Totora, San Antonio, Todos Santos, etc. These are the second most important coca-producing areas. Mean annual temperature 23°C.

  3. The llanos zone: In some places in Santa Cruz and Valle Grande and certain parts of Tarija. The mean annual temperature is 23°C. and in some places 18° to 20°C.

  4. The mountainous regions of Cochabamba with a mean annual temperature of between 15° and 18°C. and low humidity.

  5. The plateau and Andean regions of the departments of La Paz, Oruro and Potosí which are extremely dry and have a mean annual temperature of between 6° and 12°C.


It is widely believed that altitude is the decisive, or at any rate the most important, factor inducing coca-leaf chewing. This belief appears to be based upon a rather fragmentary knowledge of the habit of coca-leaf chewing and an exaggerated idea of the influence that a single factor can have in the formation of a human habit.

Before great altitude could be regarded as a decisive factor in coca-leaf chewing it would be necessary to establish:

  1. What is meant by great altitude, that is, above approximately what height does altitude in itself give rise to the habit. This cannot be established. The term "great altitude" is a relative one. In some countries 2,000 metres is a great altitude. In others, such as Peru and Bolivia, it is a medium altitude.

  2. That coca-leaf chewing is practised only in the plateaux or Andean regions at great altitude. As we shall see, this is not the case. Coca chewing is practised in regions and localities which vary in Peru from a few metres above sea level (Pacasmayo, San Lorenzo Islands, Callao, etc.) to 4,359 metres (Cerro de Pasco), and in Bolivia from 425 metres (Santa Cruz) to 4,500 metres (certain mining settlements near Catavi).6

In Peru and Bolivia the theory is advanced in some quarters that the inhabitant of the high plateaux, or "Andean man" as he is called, has peculiar biological characteristics as a consequence of living in the Andes. Accordingly, it is held that Andean man is physiologically and chemically different from man living at sea level.7

The theory nowadays has many adherents but has still to be proved experimentally. It is used by some not only to show that coca-leaf chewing is necessary or harmless, but also to explain a wide variety of other human phenomena, relating to so-called "Andean man". As was said earlier in connexion with climate, it is true to say that, generally speaking, altitude, like any other of the internal or external factors affecting man, does determine, to a certain extent, the habits of human beings. But it must be borne in mind that every human habit is the result of a multiplicity or complex of very varied factors; and that these factors interact, positively and negatively.

It therefore seems difficult to justify coca chewing on the grounds of great altitude. Further, it is pertinent to ask what is meant by "Andean man", a concept which cannot easily be defined. A purely historical or cultural criterion would be insufficient. The limitation of "Andean man" to the Aymara or Quechua Indian, or to both, would be open to serious criticism, since in the Andean region there are groups or descendants of Indians not belonging to the two ethnic groups mentioned. Moreover, for more than 400 years mestizos and whites have been born and have lived in the Andes. Coca chewing is much less common among the mestizos than among the Indians, and as a habit is practically unknown among the white population.

As regards altitude as a decisive factor in coca-leaf chewing, it should also be noted that:


Catavi is situated at 3,900 metres and Potosí 4,100 metres. Both are major coca-leaf chewing centres.


This theory has given rise to the thesis of high-altitude biology and the contention that men living at high altitudes are biologically different from men living at sea level. This thesis would mean that there must be a third specific biological human type, valley man or man living at medium altitude. While it may well be that the inhabitants of the high plateaux (American or Asiatic), the inhabitants of valleys and men living at sea level, have certain individual characteristics, this does not seem to warrant the conclusion that there are three different biological human types.

Indian Girl

Full size image: 24 kB, Indian Girl
  1. The altitude does not explain why large groups of the population in the same place or area chew coca leaf, while others do not. It frequently happens among members of the same family, living in the same place and in the same social and economic environment, that some chew coca leaf while others do not. It is worth noting that Indian women chew coca leaf to a much lesser extent than Indian men. An attempt has been made to explain this by the fact that the men do heavy work while the women do not. This explanation by the defenders of coca-leaf chewing implies the recognition of a new factor conducive to coca chewing and the implicit denial that altitude is the decisive factor. It should be added that in some areas the women perform equally, heavy mining and agricultural work and still chew coca leaf much less than the men. Moreover, the men continue to chew coca even when their work, whether in field, factory or mine, is not heavy.

Indian peasant chewing coca leaf: notice the bowl in the right cheek

Full size image: 67 kB, Indian peasant chewing coca leaf: notice the bowl in the right cheek

Photo credit: TRAUCHMANN

Full size image: 67 kB
  1. There is no coca-leaf chewing in the Peruvian and Bolivian armies. The elimination of coca-leaf chewing during military service is accomplished without any difficulty as a result of improved nutrition and a healthier way of life. Many of the garrisons in Peru and Bolivia are at high altitudes: as at Cuzco, Cerro de Pasco, Potosí, Oruro, La Paz, Catavi, etc., but in no case do the soldiers find it necessary to chew coca leaf. It may be added that in these areas 70 or 80 per cent of the soldiers are Indians, the great majority of whom were coca-leaf chewers before they entered the army.

  2. In other parts of the world at high altitude, neither coca-leaf chewing nor any similar habit is practised. It is significant that at Chacaltaya, Bolivia, mestizos and whites born on the altiplano ski at a height of 5,480 metres without needing to chew coca leaf. To a lesser extent, Indians who have become assimilated to Western culture also ski without experiencing any need to chew coca leaf.

The argument that the altitude of the Andean regions is the cause of coca chewing overlooks these facts and also the fact that in not a few of the areas concerned chewers and non-chewers are always to be found in greater or lesser numbers. The following examples, based on personal observation, may be mentioned:


  1. Puno, Cuzco, Cerro de Pasco and Junín, at altitudes between 3,400 and 4,700 metres, have a great concentration of coca-leaf chewers, but there are also large groups of non-chewers.

  2. In places at medium altitude, such as Quillabamba (Cuzco) and in Huánuco, there are chewers and non-chewers. The same is true of Machu-Pichu (2,100 m.), Arequipa (2,363 m.) and Cajamarca (2,700 m.).

  3. At lower altitude: Tingo Maria (500-600 m.) and in Uchisa, which is lower.

  4. In the coastal zone, below 500 metres: Trujillo, Ica, the San Lorenzo Islands, Lima and Callao.


  1. In the plateau zone at an average altitude of 3,500 metres: La Paz, Viacha, Huarina, Tiquina, Copacabana, Batallas, Acha-Cachi, Huarizata, Oruro, Potosí, Catavi, Llallagua, Huamini, etc.

  2. At altitudes under 2,000 metres: in the yungas of La Paz and Cochabamba and in certain parts of Tarija.

  3. In certain places on the plains of Santa Cruz, which are at an altitude of less than 500 metres.

It is true that in the higher regions, above 3,000 metres, the number of chewers increases and reaches considerable proportions. But this concentration would seem to be due less to the influence of altitude, than to the fact that in Peru 61.66 per cent of the total population lives in the sierra zone, while nearly 58 per cent of the total population of Bolivia lives in the highlands.

The concentration is due to historical and economic factors. The mineral and agricultural wealth of Peru is concentrated in the sierra and the mineral wealth of Bolivia in the altiplano. It is in these areas that nutrition, as we shall see below, and living and working conditions leave much to be desired.7a

It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that the greater concentration of coca-leaf chewers at high altitudes is due to causes other than the effect of altitude. Altitude is not a decisive factor, but rather a secondary factor, the effects of which can to a great extent be eliminated by a general improvement in living and working conditions.8

III. Nutrition

The deficient nutrition of the Peruvian and Bolivian people, and more particularly of the large Indian population of the two countries, is recognized by official and unofficial sources.

The advocates of coca-leaf chewing argue in various terms that the chewing of coca leaf compensates for deficient nutrition in two ways:

For a study of living and working conditions, see the Report referred to in footnote 1.

As regards measures of improvement, see in particular the conclusions and recommendations of the Report in the official part of the present issue of the Bulletin.

  1. Because the coca leaf contains a high nutritive substance, "X". To date, the existence of this substance is no more than a theoretical assertion.

  2. Because the coca leaf contains vitamins.9

    In this connexion it should be noted:

  1. That even if the coca leaf contains vitamins, it does not mean that they are totally absorbed during the process of mastication;

  2. That, even if absorbed, they may be neutralized by the alkaloids contained in coca leaf;

  3. That coca leaf is chewed dry which, according to some authorities, would mean the loss or substantial reduction of their vitamin value;

  4. That the use of "llipta" during mastication might lead to the total or partial destruction of the vitamins.

At present, the fact is that where nutrition is highly inadequate coca-leaf chewing occurs on a large scale and it is known that the coca leaf mitigates or completely removes sensations of hunger because of its cocaine content. It seems reasonable to conclude that coca-leaf chewing is practised primarily to kill sensations of hunger, with all the undesirable consequences that this entails.

The correlation between coca-leaf chewing and the lack of adequate nutrition has been attested by many authors and by a large number of investigations and experiments, especially in Peru. With few exceptions, a large number of civil and military doctors, professors, teachers, army officers, farmers, labourers, landowners, etc., have stated that:

  1. Improved nutrition plays an important part in bringing about a gradual disappearance of coca-leaf chewing; and

  2. The present living conditions of the Indians and of many mestizos are such that they cannot provide themselves with the necessary minimum of food.

The argument that the frugality of the Aymara or Quechua Indian, or of both, accounts for the present nutritional deficiency is unconvincing. Frugality is one thing, the habit of eating too little or badly because one cannot get proper food, is quite another. It seems reasonable to suppose that the alleged frugality is a consequence of the economic and social conditions in which large sectors of the population of Peru and Bolivia live.

It is difficult to obtain full information regarding the nutritional situation in Peru and Bolivia since, in spite of the efforts of the two Governments, there are no complete statistics on the various matters which must be covered by a study of nutrition. Most of the existing studies are concerned with the calorie intake of particular groups of the respective populations.


As regards the vitamin content and its value, see the Report referred to in footnote 1.

The conclusions of the Hot Springs Conference regarding the weight and types of food and the calories required to maintain an adequate diet may be taken as a general guide. In both Peru and Bolivia comparative studies have been made on the basis of the Hot Springs figures.

According to the conclusions of the Hot Springs Conference, the average annual food intake should be 620 kg. plus 228 eggs. The following calory intakes were regarded as normal:






sedentary life
moderately active life
very active life

The figures for women during pregnancy are 2,500 to 3,000 calories. For boys and girls, the intake varies between 2,800 and 3,800 calories, depending on age group.


  1. The average annual food consumption per head is 355 kg. Comparison of the figures for the basic items included in this average with the average for Lima and the minimum established at the Hot Springs Conference gives the following table:



Peru kg.

Lima kg.

Hot Springs kg.

Grain products
107 145 115
159 186 208
24 50 41
19 47 16
6 16 23
13 - -
328 444 403
355 511 620

The table shows that the average for Peru is 57.25 per cent of the Hot Springs minimum and 69.5 per cent of the Lima average. As is the case with all averages, however, the average does not mean that all the in-habitants of Peru can achieve it. The populations of the departments in which coca chewing is most prevalent make up the bulk of those who receive less than the average.

  1. The average annual food intake by zones is as follows:




Annual Consumption of Coca leaf

382 1,400,000
362 1,900,000
322 4,800,000

The average food consumption is not the same in all the departments in the same zone. Thus, the departments of Lima and Huánuco, which are in the central zone, have average annual consumptions of 453 and 259 kg. respectively, which means that an inhabitant of Lima consumes 75 per cent more foodstuffs than an inhabitant of Huánuco. Huánuco is the third greatest centre of coca-leaf chewing. In the southern zone, it is useful to compare the departments of Cuzco, Puno and Arequipa, with annual averages of 283 kg., 246 kg. and 325 kg. respectively. The first two departments contain the largest coca-leaf chewing centres and the last, Arequipa, is eleventh in the list of the thirteen most important centres of coca chewing.

  1. The daily food intake per head in the southern zone is 767 grammes, which, given the types of food consumed, indicates a maximum of 2,000 calories. Generally speaking, the number of calories regarded as adequate for a moderately active life is 3,000. The figure must be increased in the case of heavy work such as that performed by miners, factory workers and some categories of agricultural labourers. Studies of the rural population of Peru show that the calory deficiency per head per day varies between 500 and 2,000 calories. The following table shows in more complete form the correlation between population, coca-leaf chewing, education, altitude and nutrition. The districts have been listed in decreasing order of coca-leaf chewing.

Indian peasants at the market place

Full size image: 24 kB, Indian peasants at the market place




Indians (Per-centage)

(Percentage) Consumption of coca leaf 1943-1944 (Kilogrammes)

Education (Percentage illiterate)

Altitude of capital town of depart-ment (metres)

Annual consump-tion of agricul- tural products in kilo-grammes

Annual consump-tion of meats in kilo-grammes

Total annual consump-tion in kilo-grammes

Total daily consump-tion in grammes

meats as per-centage of total diet

Average diet as percent-age of total diet

Average diet as percent-age of Hot Springs minimum

2,200,000 82 3,410 283 45 328 898 13.6 72 53
1,100,000 85 3,870 246 32 278 761 11.5 61 45
800,000 72 1,912 239 20 266 729 7.6 59 42
700,000 85 2,761 238 48 286 783 16.7 63 46
99,829       4,359              
600,000 59   282 56 338 926 23.5 75 55
400,332       3,266              
500,000 64 2,750 330 43 373 1,020 11.5 82 60
500,000 87 2,392 253 39 282 772 13.8 64 47
500,000 83 3,770 234 32 266 728 12.0 59 43
500,000 68 3,027 303 34 337 923 10.0 74 54
La Libertad
300,000 49 47 316 73 389 1,065 18.5 86 63
300,000 38 2,363 325 96 421 1,153 22.8 93 68
100,000 55 2,334 308 32 340 930 9.4 75 55
    4,746,708   8,100,000                  

* Quechuas.

** Quechuas and Aymaras.

*** Predominantly Quechuas.

The preceding tables show that:

  1. The lowest nutritional indices generally occur in the areas where the chewing of the coca leaf is most prevalent and where the Indian population is densest.

The following table is obtained by grouping the nutritional indices for departments with more than 50 per cent Indian population and those for departments with less than 50 per cent Indian population:


Departments with more than 50 per cent Indian population

Average as compared with Lima Per cent

Average compared with Hot Springs minimum Per cent

Cuzco, Puno, Hu anuco, Ayacucho, Junin-Pasco, Apurimac, Huancavelica, Ancash
52.7 38.5

Departments with less than 50 per cent Indian population

Cajamarca, La Libertad, Arequipa and Amazonas
84 61.5
  1. The eight departments with lower nutritional indices and the greatest proportion of Indians in the population occupy the first eight places in the list of areas where coca chewing is most prevalent. The only exception is Cajamarca which, with a 14 per cent population, is sixth in the list of coca-chewing departments. This might be explained by the following considerations:

  1. The number of mestizos chewing coca in Cajamarca is greater than elsewhere,

  2. In view of the peculiar characteristics of the Quechua Indians in this department, it is more than likely that many of them, although in fact Indians, are shown as mestizos in the statistics consulted,

  1. The two interpretations are not mutually exclusive.

On the contrary, they seem to be the only possible explanation of the fact that 500,000 kilogrammes of coca leaf are consumed annually in this department.

The higher indices for Cuzco and Junín-Pasco may be explained by the following considerations:


  1. In the capital city, which has over 40,000 inhabitants and is the third largest in Peru, the nutritional level of some groups of the population is undoubtedly higher than the level in the department generally.

  2. In some places in the department chewing is not practised as a result of economic, social and cultural factors.


The higher index may be explained by the whites and mestizos who have better paid positions in the mines and are therefore able to feed better than ordinary miners, whether Indian or mestizo.

Nevertheless, 600,000 kilogrammes of coca leaf are consumed annually in Junín and Pasco. This figure might justify the conclusion that the number of mestizo chewers is probably greater than in other parts of Peru.

  1. The following annual average is obtained on the basis of a minimum production of 8 million kilogrammes a year, taking into account the approximate amount of coca leaf exported and used in the manufacture of cocaine in Peru:

Per cent
Manufacture of cocaine

The annual figures are approximate and are based on the statistical data given in the Report referred to in footnote.1


  1. In 1946, the average annual intake of food per head was 255 kilogrammes. This is 41.12 per cent of the Hot Springs minimum.

  2. The average calorie intake per head should be about 2,625. According to the figures of the National Bolivian Commission the average is 1,200, or 54.2 per cent less than what is regarded as normal. The Commission made the following comparison between the Hot Springs minimum and the average consumption figures per head in Bolivia.


Kilogrammes per head annually

Hot Springs
Fluid milk
4.14 2.60
Meat, fish, poultry
Fruit and fresh green vegetables
Fats (including butter)
Tubers and roots
Nuts and vegetables

Not including animal fats.

It should be noted that the comparison is not conclusive, since the Aymara and Quechua population in particular has no share in the consumption of the products covered by the statistics. This means that the indices for most of the inhabitants of the altiplano are lower than those given. According to the report of the abovementioned Commission, "the Indian exists on the margin of the colonizing movement and his food consumption is reduced to a minimum". The report also states: "The excessive use of coca and alcohol must be a consequence of the malnutrition prevalent among the inhabitants of Bolivia".

  1. According to an estimate made in 1944 and excluding the rural population, for which no data are available, the average annual consumption of meat per head was 27.5 kg. As is the case with any average, this figure does not mean that all those to whom it theoretically refers actually get as much as that.

  2. The following table, compiled from the statistical information available, nevertheless indicates the relationship between the production and chewing of the coca leaf, and altitude and education.


Departments producing coca leaf
Productionin 1948 (Kg.)
Departments consuming coca leaf[a]
Altitude of capitals (Metres)
Consumption of coca leaf in 1948
La Paz
La Paz
The total consumption
1,176,500 predominantly Aymara
2,570 excluding approxi-
654,000 predominantly Quechua
to recent 
3,706 mately 500,000 kg.
215,000 predominantly Aymara
4,100 intended for export
812,900 predominantly Quechua
75 per cent
Santa Cruz
3,100 is approximately 375,000 Quechuas of the total
(Cercado, Sara Valle Grande)
Santa Cruz
426 3,850,000 kg.
393,000 Pampeanos and Guaranis
population is illiterate.
1,957   131,900 Quechuas  

The figures for the first four departments are for 1949 and the remainder for 1946.

Comparison of this table with Table No. 6 on nutrition is difficult, since the Indian population, the nutritional index for which is in fact lower than that given in Table No. 6, has been practically excluded from that table.

In the light, however, of the studies made of certain aspects of nutrition in Bolivia (see bibliography) it may be said that:

  1. In the departments of the altiplano-La Paz (except the Yungas), Oruro and Potosí-where the concentration of population is greatest for historical and economic reasons, nutrition is more inadequate and the chewing of the coca leaf more widespread.

  2. The density of population, combined with the unsatisfactory living and working conditions, and not the altitude, is responsible for increased coca chewing.

  3. Coca chewing is also found on a large scale in the Yungas of La Paz and Cochabamba, where the average altitude is less than. 1,000 metres. In these areas, living and working conditions, especially of small farmers and agricultural labourers, cannot be regarded as satisfactory.

  4. Coca chewing is also practised although to a limited extent in some lowlands in Santa Cruz and even, it would seem, in Bení, where the altitude does not exceed 500 metres and the climate is semi-tropical. Here again general living and working conditions are not satisfactory.

  5. Apart from the quantity of coca leaf for export (approximately between 6 and 10 per cent), the remaining 90 to 94 per cent is consumed in Bolivia.11

IV. Conclusions

The following conclusions may be drawn:


Cocaine is not manufactured in Bolivia.

  1. Neither the severe climate nor the high altitude can be regarded as determining factors in the chewing of coca leaf. It occurs in areas of widely differing climates and at widely differing altitudes.

  2. Coca-leaf chewing is the result of the effect of a number of factors, the most important of which are malnutrition, unsatisfactory working and living conditions, and the influence of other adverse social, educational and economic factors.

  3. In the present state of knowledge, the theory that the coca leaf has food value cannot be maintained. Even if this were accepted as a hypothesis, it would be difficult to maintain the thesis that a product which contains cocaine can be a substitute for an adequate diet.

Although coca-leaf chewing is not regarded as drug addiction, except in certain cases, it is nevertheless a form of drug habit and it is known that the habitual ingestion of toxics invariably results in, among other things, minimum food consumption, which substantially affects the intellectual, moral and physical qualities.

  1. Coca-leaf chewing today affects the largest population groups in Peru and Bolivia. Consequently, the social and economic development of those countries will, notwithstanding the praiseworthy efforts of their Governments, be greatly hampered until coca-leaf chewing is eradicated through an adequate social, educational and economic policy.


( Besides the works mentioned in the text)1. "Censo nacional de población y ocupación de 1940", 9 vol. Dirección General de Estadistica, Lima, 1944-1949.

  1. "Population and Vital Statistics Reports", June 1949, Statistical Office of the United Nations.

  2. "Demografia", Dirección General de Estadistica, La Paz, 1942.

  3. "La situación alimenticia en el Perú", Ministerio de Agricultura (S.C.I.P.A.) by L. Rose Ugarte, Lima, 1945.

  4. "Geografia económica de Bolivia", I and II, by Jorge Pardo Gutiérrez, Director General de Estadistica, La Paz, 1947.

  5. "Subalimentación del indio", by Rosa Gutiérrez Chávez, Second Inter-American Indigenist Congress, Cuzco, June 1949.

  6. "La solución del problema alimenticio del indigena", by M. Arag?n, idem.

  7. "Variaciones hemáticas y quimicas del indigena peruano en el ejército", by Dr. A. Guzmán Barrón and Percy Salomon of the Laboratorio Central del Ejército, idem.

  8. "The United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture", Hot Springs, Virginia, 1943.

  9. "Investigación sobre costumbres alimenticias en las zonas rurales del Perú", Ministerio de Agricultura, by A. C. Roncal, Lima.

  10. "El cocaismo y la alimentación en el Perú", by Dr. C. Gutiérrez Noriega, Lima, 1948.

  11. "Consideraciones sobre la alimentación del indigena peruano", by Dr. Alberto Guzmán Barrón, Teniente Coronel del Ejército, Second Inter-American Indigenist Congress, Cuzco, June 1949.

  12. "Alimentación en los Andes", by Dr. Carlos Monge, idem.

14 "Descocainización progresiva de la población indigena del Perú", Manuel Callo Zevallos, idem.

  1. "Labour Problems in Bolivia", Report of the Joint Bolivian-United States Labour Commission, I.L.O., Montreal, 1943.

  2. "El problema social en Bolivia. Condiciones de vida y trabajo", by R. Capriles and G. Arduz, La Paz, 1944.

  3. "Encuesta continental sobre consumo e infraconsumo", Comisión Nacional Boliviana, La Paz, 1944.

  4. "El presente y el futuro del problema alimenticio en Bolivia", information submitted to the Bolivian Government by Dr. P. Escudero, Buenos Aires, 1947.

  5. "Memoria del Banco Agricola de Bolivia", La Paz, years 1946, 1947, and 1948.

  6. "Estudios sobre el abastecimiento de carne y productos de carne en Bolivia", by J. R. Loza, La Paz, 1944.


In an attempt to study the serious problem of coca chewing, Dr. G. Bonilla Iragorri, Departmental Director of Health of Cauca, distributed the following questionnaire among medical practitioners in the department:

  1. What is your opinion on the consumption of coca as a nutritional factor, an economic factor and a social factor?

  2. Do you believe that the Government should continue to allow Indians to consume coca leaves daily?

The principal replies to the preceding questions can be summarized as follows:13

  1. Coca is not a food. From a physiological point of view coca does not constitute a food any more than tobacco. It would be a mistake to classify coca as an economy food. The consumption of coca has no biological foundation whatsoever. This plant contains no nutritional element and it is characterized by its alkaloid content.

  2. Coca is a toxic and like all toxics is harmful. Coca-leaf chewing is, in general, harmful to the Native population. Evidence of its harmful effects on nutrition can be gathered by careful observation of chewers as one travels through villages, towns and small communities in the interior of Colombia. The drug reduces the


Coca leaf chewing is mainly localized in the departments of Cauca and Huila which also are the most important producing regions. In 1946 the total production of coca leaves in Colombia was 225,000 kg.; 210,000 kg., i.e. 93.3 per cent of this production was for chewing purposes and 20,000 kg., i.e. 6.7 per cent for medical preparations (tinctures, extracts, etc.). Colombia neither manufactures cocaine, nor exports coca leaves. (document E/CN.7/110/Add.5)


Annual Report of the Colombian Government for 1948 (document E/NR/1948/41).

appetite and in the long run it will produce an organic disequilibrium between the energy used up and the material or fuel supplied. The loss of food entails a reduction of organic defences and this will predispose to disease and particularly to the development of tuberculosis.

  1. Mastication can only be considered as a social evil. It affects the Native population of almost all South America. Educational propaganda should be launched on a wide scale among the indigenous and peasant classes, particularly among the younger generation. The employers should be invited to replace the supply of coca by some other food such as brown sugar or meat, for example. The daily chewing of coca leaf has a great pathogenic power. Its effects are injurious to the individual or the race as well as to the economy of the country.

  2. Suppression of chewing. It should include two primary stages: first to break the Indian of his habit and then to put an end to the harmful industry. Another step would be to abolish the reprehensible custom of paying the native inhabitant part of his salary in coca leaves.

The consumption of coca being entirely domestic and restricted to the Native population, it is not very important as an economic factor in the general economy of the country. It should be mentioned that the indigenous inhabitants of the Guachicona district in La Vega, Cauca, sent a message to the President of the Republic in which they approved the decree for the eradication of the coca plantations.

The cultivation of the coca shrub might be replaced by other crops likely to improve the daily ration of the worker.


The annual figures are approximate and are based on the statistical data given in the Report referred to in footnote.1




Not including animal fats.


The figures for the first four departments are for 1949 and the remainder for 1946.