Coca cultivation declining in Colombia but on the rise in Peru, UN agency reports

Coca plants. Photo: H. Zell

22 June 2010 – The cultivation of the raw material for cocaine has declined significantly in Colombia, the world’s leading producer of coca, but the situation in Peru remains worrying with the amount of the narcotic grown there consistently rising, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported today.

Overall, crop surveys show the amount of coca grown in the four Andean countries of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru dropping by five per cent from 167,000 hectares in 2008 to 158,000 hectares in 2009, according to the agency.

In Colombia, coca cultivation declined by 16 per cent to 68,000 hectares, a drop of almost 60 per cent since the peak production period a decade ago.

“The drug control policy adopted by the Colombian Government over the past few years – combining security and development – is paying off,” said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa. Cocaine production in Colombia fell to 410 tons, a nine per cent year-on-year reduction.

The UNODC said cultivating coca in Colombia has become riskier and less profitable for organized crime, noting that coca farmers barely earn over $1 a day. The total farm-gate value of coca production has dropped by 21 per cent, to below half a billion dollars, which is 0.2 per cent of Colombia’s gross domestic product (GDP). Coca plots are becoming smaller, more dispersed and less productive, thus increasing the demand of local communities for alternative legal sources of livelihood.

Colombia’s action against coca cultivation and cocaine production has been matched by effective anti-trafficking policies. Cocaine seizures within Colombia reached 200 tons in 2009, a significant percentage of the cocaine produced.

In Peru, coca cultivation has continued to rise for the fourth year in a row, having gone up 6.8 per cent to 59,900 hectares last year, compared to 56,100 hectares in 2008. Some 55 per cent more coca is now grown in Peru than a decade ago, although this year’s total is still half of what it was two decades ago, according to UNODC.

“If the current trend continues, Peru will soon overtake Colombia as the world’s biggest coca producer – a notorious status that it has not had since the mid-1990s,” Mr. Costa warned.

“I invite the Peruvian Government to take concerted action on all fronts to improve the delivery of public health and security by expanding sustainable livelihood initiatives, drug prevention and treatment programmes, law enforcement and regional cooperation,” he added.

There was little change in coca cultivation in Bolivia with the land under coca increasing by one per cent to 30,900 hectares, twice the size of the area a decade ago.

“More eradication and greater support for development, not least for alternative livelihoods, are needed in the Yungas and Chapare regions,” Mr. Costa said. “Urgent action is also required to repair the environmental damage caused to regions that have been severely affected by mono-cultivation of coca crops,” he added.

UNODC said market forces seem to be making coca less profitable. In 2009, Bolivia’s coca farmers earned 10 per cent less for the coca leaf – $265 million in 2009, down from $293 million in 2008.

“There are limits to what the Andean governments can do if people keep snorting cocaine. It is therefore up to governments in coke-consuming countries – mostly in Europe and North America – to take their share of responsibility and reduce demand for cocaine,” said Mr. Costa.

UNODC said that due to the ongoing review of conversion factors from coca leaves to pure cocaine, it is not putting an estimate on the level of cocaine production in Bolivia and Peru this year.

As a result of the uncertainty, global cocaine production in 2009 was estimated as being within a range of between 842 and 1,111 tons. These surveys refer to coca cultivation only.

UNODC will tomorrow launch its 2010 World Drug Report, which will present a complete global picture of the cocaine market, including demand, trafficking and supply.


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