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Colombia plantation crops such as sugar, cotton, and cacao. It was not until the latter half of the nineteenth century that Europeans began to settle this region of mountains and valleys. A startling exchange of crops was about to occur, one that would trans-­ form the economy of two lands located ­half-­a-­world ­apart. Since the seventeenth century, quinine had been used in the treatment of malaria, the world’s most prevalent deadly disease. The drug is extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree, which, until the mid-1940s, was the sole source of ­lifesaving quinine. Cinchona grew wild in the highland forests located in this region of Colombia. Beginning in the ­ mid-­nineteenth century, bark was stripped from the trees, collected, and shipped to markets. The city of Bucaramanga was a primary center for this activity. Stripping of bark, of course, killed the trees, which resulted in considerable environmental damage. By the late 1880s, how-­ ever, plantations on the distant island of Java (Indonesia) had cornered the ­cinchona-­growing and ­quinine-­producing market. Colombia was unable to compete, and the industry there began a sharp decline. Colombia was on the brink of an exchange that would bring sweet revenge, however! Have you ever heard Java used as slang for “coffee”? Origi-­ nally cultivated in Southwest Asia, coffee shrubs thrived on Indonesian plantations, particularly on the island of Java. By the mid-1800s, however, coffee had been introduced as a commer-­ cial crop in Colombia. The exchange more than compensated for the loss of cinchona, because coffee rapidly became Colombia’s chief export. Today, it is grown on hundreds of small, mountain-­ side fincas (coffee farms), many of which are ­ owner-­operated. Within this region, Bucaramanga continues to be a major center of the coffee trade. Other crops, such as tobacco (and, of course, illegal coca, the source of cocaine) have grown in importance during recent decades, as has livestock grazing. The city, the largest in the region, has a metropolitan population approach-­ ing one million. In addition to serving as a regional agricultural center, it also provides important political, cultural, and general


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