The head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is urging comprehensive, large-scale and ecologically-friendly agriculture and forestry schemes in coca growing areas, after a new survey shows a “marked increase” in cultivation in the Andean region.
According to the 2007 Andean coca survey, released today by UNODC, the total area of land under coca cultivation last year in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru was 181,600 hectares, a 16 per cent increase over 2006 – and the highest level since 2001.
The increase was due to a 27 per cent rise in Colombia, and smaller increases of 5 per cent and 4 per cent respectively in Bolivia and Peru.
“The increase in coca cultivation in Colombia is a surprise and shock: a surprise because it comes at a time when the Colombian Government is trying so hard to eradicate coca; a shock because of the magnitude of cultivation,” said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.
The survey also points out that nearly half of all cocaine production and one third of the cultivation come from just 10 of the country’s 195 municipalities. “Just like in Afghanistan, where most opium is grown in provinces with a heavy Taliban presence, in Colombia most coca is grown in areas controlled by insurgents,” Mr. Costa noted.
However, even with the rise in coca cultivation, cocaine production in Colombia – the world’s biggest producer – remained almost unchanged in 2007, according to the survey.
The findings highlight the need for greater investments in alternative livelihood programmes, stressed the Executive Director. Coca cultivation in Bolivia, for example, rose in regions such as La Asunta and the Yungas de La Paz, which have seen little investment in development. At the same time, regions like Alto Beni that have received support for alternative livelihood schemes have been able to reduce coca cultivation.
UNODC adds that price increases for products such as coffee, palm oil and cocoa, which are being grown under alternative development programmes, have convinced many farmers in Peru not to replant eradicated coca fields. In Colombia, the agency is supporting the Forest Wardens Families Programme in assisting farmers who make a commitment to voluntarily eradicate coca, while promoting reforestation.
“With greater control over national territory, governments can help farmers switch to licit livelihoods and turn their backs on drugs,” said Mr. Costa. “This is the best way of eradicating poverty as well as coca.”