BOGOTÁ, Colombia – The new Comprehensive Program to Combat Drug Trafficking, which includes investments of US$27 million, is being implemented in the southeastern Colombian department of Nariño.
The announcement was made on July 27 by Colombian Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzón, two days after the presentation of the 2011 Colombia Coca Crop Survey by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) Comprehensive Illicit Crop Monitoring System (SIMCI), with the support of the Colombian government.
The department of Nariño registered the most significant increase in coca cultivation from 2010 to 2011, reaching 17,231 hectares (42,578 acres).
The program features an initiative that includes new tools to track illicit coca crops and work more closely with growers, encouraging them to cultivate legal crops.
“We believe there also needs to be a comprehensive approach that provides these farmers with new opportunities and alternatives so that they can begin voluntarily to leave the drug trade,” Pinzón said.
Coca cultivation grew by 3% throughout Colombia, from 62,000 hectares (153,205 acres) in 2010 to 64,000 hectares (158,148 acres) last year.
At the same time, cocaine production fell by 1.4%, as 345 tons of cocaine was produced in 2011, compared to 350 tons in 2010.
“The results show that cultivation increased, while the overall productivity of the plant itself decreased,” said Aldo Lale-Demoz, UNODC’s representative in Colombia.
In addition to Nariño, significant crop increases in three other departments contributed to an escalation in coca cultivation nationwide: Putumayo, with 9,951 hectares (24,589 acres); Guaviare, with 6,839 hectares (16,900 acres) and Cauca, with 6,066 hectares (14,989 acres). Together, these departments account for 63% of all coca crops in Colombia.
“There was considerable growth in these four departments,” Lale-Demoz said. “We need to rethink our strategies for these areas.”
The border region with Ecuador, which accounted for 23% of all coca cultivation in 2011, also showed an increase in planted areas.
But Gen. Luis Alberto Pérez, director of the Anti-narcotics Police, pointed out that spraying the area is not an option, due to an agreement with the Ecuadoran government.
Another difficulty, according to Pérez, is reaching coca plantations located on indigenous reserves.
“In these areas, we have to ask for permission from the indigenous before conducting aerial spraying,” he added.
In 14 of the 23 departments where coca is cultivated, the total planted area decreased. And the trend of scattered, less concentrated crops, which was seen from 2008 to 2010, continued into 2011.
Departments such as Córdoba, Antioquia and Bolívar saw levels drop significantly, by 2,801 hectares (6,921 acres), 2,246 hectares (5,550 acres) and 1,117 hectares (2,760 acres), respectively.
In addition, Boyacá, Caldas, Magdalena, Cundinamarca and La Guajira each have less than 100 hectares (247 acres) being cultivated.
Lale-Demoz pointed out indigenous, rural workers and Afro-Colombians suffer the most from the actions of illegal armed groups.
“They are the most vulnerable link in the chain,” he said. “The people who grow coca earn the least. The daily earnings per person from coca cultivation total US$1.80.”
The study showed a 3.5% growth in coca cultivation in the regions inhabited by indigenous populations.
The share of coca plantations in communities of African descent, for example, increased from 1% in 2001 to 25% of the total planted in Colombia in 2011.
Declining production, rising prices
The decline in cocaine production has made the drug increasingly expensive and difficult to obtain, Lale-Demoz said.
“The decrease in productivity, the rising prices for chemical inputs (for refining), transportation issues (…). All of this is a result of the pressure that the Colombian government has exerted throughout the drug trafficking chain,” he said.
Jorge Restrepo, director of the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC), said the 3% increase in 2011 and dispersal of crops are reflections of the reorganization of the productive chain for cocaine.
“This is normal when you take into account the groups that control the drug trade are always looking for loopholes that allow them to maintain their illegal business,” he said.
Restrepo also pointed out that recent studies show a decline in cocaine use in certain countries.
In the United States, prevalence of cocaine use among adults fell from 3% in 2006 to 2.2% in 2010, according to the World Drug Report 2011 released in May. The drop is linked to the decline of 47% in cocaine manufacturing in Colombia, according to the UNODC.
“If there are fewer users in the United States, for example, the price on the streets will fall and that will be felt, albeit subtly, throughout the productive chain,” Restrepo added.
Colombian Minister of Interior and Justice Ruth Stella Correa said the fight against drugs requires a global strategy, increasing the focus on consumer markets and providing prevention programs and treatment for users.
“Today, Colombia produces 345 tons of cocaine, which is 625 tons less than a decade ago,” she said. “We’ve been fighting this battle for 20 years and little by little we’re making progress, but there’s still a lot to be done.”
Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said recently in Washington, D.C., the United States government is committed to continuing to reduce demand as part of a global strategy to combat drug use.
“We are all united in pursuing drug policies that are balanced, realistic, and that focus on the public health and the safety of the citizens,” he said. “The international drug control community must find ways to work together and increase cooperation, both in cutting the supply of drugs and reducing the demand for them. I’m pleased to report that there is a significant amount of international solidarity on this matter.”
Ligia Hougland contributed from Washington, D.C.