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Bolivian firm launches soft drink made from coca leaves

posted 18 Jan 2011, 13:21 by Mpelembe   [ updated 18 Jan 2011, 13:24 ]

Coca-laced soft drink battles for market share in Bolivia against the big names in beverages.

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA (JANUARY 18, 2011) REUTERS - A Bolivian company unveiled a new soft drink made from coca leaves in La Paz on Tuesday (January 18).

The launch of Coca Brynco, by a private firm, has been supported by the government as a way of showing the world a positive use for the leaf that is best known internationally as being the base substance for cocaine.

It came on the same day as Bolivian Foreign Minister, David Choquehuanca, landed in Europe for a five-country tour to solicit support for the country's bid to get coca decriminalised.

The coca plant has been considered an illegal substance by the United Nations since 1961.

Speaking at the La Paz launch, Minister of Rural Development Achacollo Nemesia said the drink was a way of making a public statement.

"With this, we are going to show publicly that coca is a sacred leaf that has components that are curative and natural, that apart from using it in syrups and medicines, it can be used in drinks, like now," said Nemesia.

The legalisation of coca has been a major theme for Bolivian president Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian and former coca farmer, throughout his five-year presidency.

In its natural leaf form, coca is widely used in the Andean region for teas and chewing. It only becomes cocaine after a complex chemical progress.

Coca Brynco uses only a small amount of coca leaf in its recipe.

Johnny Vargas is responsible for quality control and said the drink had natural stimulating properties.

"Apart from being a refreshing drink, it has an energising effect thanks to the properties found in coca leaves, which are one of the principle ingredients [in the drink]," says Vargas.

The leaves used in the drink come from Los Yungas Valley, north of La Paz, and have been sourced by the government-run organisation, DIGCOIN (the National Directorate of Coca Industrialisation).

"We are already working with coca from Los Yungas that has been provided to use through the Directorate of Coca Industrialisation and we work with ecological coca that is in the ultimate phase of the certification process," said Vargas.

The project comes with an initial investment of US$325,000 and will see 5,000 litres produced every day. The plan is to double that output in the second year and, if the ban is lifted, start international export in the third year.

Bolivia currently has over 72,000 legally recognised members in the union for coca growers and 8,000 tons of coca can be legally produced in the country for traditional uses.

In 2008, the Bolivian government expelled agents from United States Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. ambassador, accusing them of supporting the conservative opposition.