A new article published in the journal Science, co-authored by a United Nations University researcher, provides compelling evidence that flows of drugs through the Americas are directly related to deforestation rates in North America's most biodiverse and biosensitive region. The article, "Drug Policy as Conservation Policy: Narco-Deforestation" is the result of collaboration between researchers at the UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) and four US universities: Ohio State University, Northern Arizona University, University of Denver and University of Idaho.
The article spotlights forest loss in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC), a cross-border initiative established in 1998 to link ecosystems and bio-conservation efforts in Mexico and Central America while promoting sustainable social and economic development. But the stakeholders and policy mechanisms that support these efforts are increasingly in conflict with drug trafficking organizations.
Remote forests, such as those of the MBC, are prized conservation areas — but they are also the golden spike in the drug trade, providing ideal transit hub locations for clandestine airplane landing strips and hidden roads. The researchers note that "by infusing already weakly governed frontiers with unprecedented amounts of cash and weapons", drug trafficking is able to "narco-capitalize" other resident stakeholders in these remote forests, such as ranchers and oil palm growers.
The result is a "militarization" of forests where drug profits can be laundered through land purchases and agricultural conversion of protected forest areas. Much of the social burden from this corruption and violence falls on indigenous groups and smallholder farmers.
The article is available on the Science website here.