According to the U.N., coca planting in Colombia hit an all-time high last year as President Gustavo Petro’s administration battles to eradicate poverty in rural areas and subdue armed groups that benefit from the cocaine trade.
The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime released updated research on coca cultivation over the weekend, projecting that roughly 570,000 acres of cropland in Colombia would be planted with coca in 2022, an increase of 13% from the year before.
Coca leaves are used to make cocaine, which is exported most frequently in the world. 90% of the cocaine sold in the United States each year comes from Colombia.
The government of Colombia said on Monday that the quantity of land being used to grow coca is expanding more slowly than in past years. In the future years, it is hoped that new initiatives that offer farmers more financial incentives to grow legal crops will contribute to a decrease in cocaine production.
In reference to the 13% yearly rise in coca acreage planted, Justice Minister Nestor Osuna stated at a press conference that “we are flattening the curve.” He noted that between 2020 and 2021, coca cultivation in Colombia increased by more than 40%.
On Saturday, President Gustavo Petro criticised and labelled as a failure U.S.-led efforts to combat drug production by eliminating coca farms. His government has cut coca eradication targets.
Speaking at a conference on drug policy in Latin America that his administration had organised, Petro pushed Colombia’s neighbours to adopt a new strategy. He asserted that drug usage ought to be treated as a “public health problem” rather than a military issue.
“We have to end the disastrous policy that blames farmers (for cocaine production) and doesn’t ask why in some societies people consume drugs until they kill themselves,” he said. “Drugs are replacing the lack of affection and loneliness.”
The annual U.N. study states that coca planting increased most in border regions where it is simple to export and transport the drug, particularly in the province of Putumayo along Colombia’s southern border with Ecuador.
U.N. representatives claimed that lower coca leaf prices had caused a decline in coca production in Colombia’s interior, giving authorities the chance to sign up farmers for crop replacement schemes.
“We have to work on strengthening legal economies” in isolated areas “and not just attacking illicit economies,” said Leonardo Correa, the regional coordinator for the U.N.’s coca monitoring system.
Following a peace agreement between the government and Colombia’s largest rebel faction, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s coca output decreased somewhat from 2017 to 2020. But since then, planting has increased as smaller armed groups that make money off the drug trafficking occupy land that was once held by FARC fighters.
According to the justice minister, Colombia intends to reduce cocaine production by enhancing infrastructure, health care, and education in a few locations where coca plants are abundant.
“The success of our drug policy should be measured in terms of the reduction of violent crime, and the reduction of poverty in those regions where coca is cultivated,” Osuna said.