The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its annual reports on coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador yesterday.
The main headline surrounding this year’s release of the three main reports is Peru’s significant increase and Colombia’s decrease in coca cultivation in 2009–making Peru a contender for taking Colombia’s title as the region’s–and world’s–top coca cultivator. “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,” warned UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa.
Coca cultivation in Peru increased 6.8% in 2009–from 56,100 hectares in 2008 to 59,900. Cultivation of coca in Colombia, however, decreased in 2009 by 16%–from 81,000 hectares in 2008 to 68,000 hectares in 2009. Despite Colombia’s sharp decline, total coca cultivation in the Andean region only decreased 5.2% in 2009.
According to the UNODC data, cultivation of coca in Bolivia barely changed between 2008 to 2009, increasing only by 400 hectares (about 1%–from 30,500 hectares in 2008 to 30,900 in 2009). This contradicts the United States’ estimate for Bolivia, which shows a 9.4% increase in cultivation between 2008 and 2009 (and a 2009 cultivation estimate that is 4,100 hectares higher than the UNODC’s estimate).
The above coca cultivation estimate reflects what the UNODC believes to be left over after all eradication takes place. Below is a chart that shows the total attempted number of hectares of coca under cultivation in the region, which is calculated by adding the cultivation data to the eradication data. This graph shows that even before eradication, Colombian coca growers were planting less of the crop in 2009. Colombia’s attempted coca growing decreased 25% from 2008 to 2009, while the actual amount of uneradicated coca decreased by only 16%.
Below are more country-specific details from the 2009 UNODC reports:
Colombia registered its second consecutive annual decrease in coca cultivation, dropping from 81,000 to 68,000 hectares. This is the lowest figure UNODC has detected in Colombia since it began measurements in the late 1990s.
Curiously, the drop occurred during a year in which coca eradication – both aerial and manual – fell sharply. U.S.-funded aircraft sprayed 104,771 hectares in Colombia in 2009, a 39 percent drop from the 172,026 hectares sprayed in 2006. Meanwhile manual eradication – teams of eradicators pulling plants out of the ground — dropped 37 percent from 2008 to 2009 (from 96,115 to 60,544 hectares).
The UNODC data seem to indicate that increased forced eradication does not correlate closely with reduced coca-growing. The same phenomenon was evident in past years, when increased coca cultivation came at the same time as increased eradication.
UNODC’s explanation of Colombia’s 2009 drop does, though, give some credit to forced eradication. It notes, however, that the reduction also owes to an increase in Colombian government presence in many remote coca-growing areas — part of an effort to “consolidate” control of territories dominated by illegal armed groups. It also notes an increase in investment in alternative development programs. “Dry weather conditions in 2009,” UNODC adds, “also played a role.”
The Colombia report notes a sharp (17 percent) drop in the estimated annual income of a coca-growing household, from US$10,508 in 2008 to US$8,710 last year. That adds up to a per capita income of only US$2,120 per year – far less than half the national average. Coca is not offering growers the attractive economic option that it once did. The UNODC found no significant variation last year in the farm-gate price of coca or coca paste, nor did it find any change in the price of cocaine in Colombia’s internal market.
Colombia’s largest coca-growing department continued to be Nariño in the far southwest. Colombia’s entire Pacific coastal plain — from Nariño north through Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Chocó — now accounts for 37 percent of all the country’s coca and may be the most violent part of the country. Though the Pacific zone decreased, a sharp increase was detected in Guaviare, the south-central department where the U.S.-funded aerial spray program began in the mid-1990s.
After a few years’ growth, coca cultivation declined sharply again in the department of Putumayo along the Ecuador border, where massive eradication operations under “Plan Colombia” first began in late 2000. Putumayo’s 45 percent one-year decline was surprising because the department not only saw a sharp decrease in eradication from 2008 to 2009, but it was experiencing severe economic hardship. The population was hard hit in late 2008 by the collapse of pyramid schemes that had thousands of investors. Meanwhile, efforts to “consolidate” or build state presence in Putumayo are incipient at best. The report is unable to explain the drop.
BOLIVIA (PDF in Spanish)
Chewing coca leaf is a centuries-old tradition among Bolivia’s large indigenous population, and Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca-grower, has tolerated “rational” amounts of coca cultivation. The United States has harshly criticized Morales for refusing to eradicate coca leaf more aggressively, arguing that much of the crop is being turned into cocaine and exported. U.S. officials have cited three years of increased coca-growing in Bolivia as evidence that Morales’ “legal cocaine, zero coca” policy isn’t working.
In its latest report, UNODC detected increased Bolivian coca-growing for a fourth consecutive year–but this time the growth is insignificant, from 30,500 to 30,900 hectares (about 1 percent). The stagnation in coca-growing, UNODC finds, owes in part to the relative success that the Morales approach is enjoying in the President’s home region, the Chapare region of Cochabamba department. Most recent growth instead has occurred in a difficult to access zone near La Paz, the Yungas, which now accounts for 68 percent of all coca in Bolivia.
UNODC also notes that the value of Bolivia’s coca market fell by 10 percent in 2009, which may have offered a disincentive to new planting. It is not clear why this drop occurred after several years of increases.
PERU (PDF in Spanish)
The biggest headline from the UNODC findings was the continued increase in Peru’s coca cultivation. UNODC found 59,900 hectares in Peru in 2009, 3,800 more than in 2008 and the highest figure detected since UNODC began monitoring in Peru in 2001. (This is far lower, however, than levels of Peruvian coca the United States detected between the late 1980s and mid-1990s, when Peru was the region’s main coca producer.)
Even though Peru grew about 8,000 hectares fewer than Colombia last year, UNODC estimates that Peruvian growers harvested more coca leaf from these hectares than did their Colombian counterparts. This is the first time in nearly 15 years that Colombia — which still has the highest coca acreage — is not the Andes’ largest coca-leaf producer.
This appears to be a classic, textbook example of the “balloon effect” — a much-used metaphor to describe U.S. drug-supply efforts in Latin America. Like squeezing a half-inflated balloon, pressure applied in one area causes the problem to emerge in another area. With the “balloon” being squeezed in Colombia, the “air” is rushing into Peru, where the remnants of the Sendero Luminoso guerrilla group encourage production and Colombian and Mexican cartels are battling for control of the trade.
Most of Peru’s increase occurred in jungle zones that had little or no coca as recently as five years ago. Two of these zones are near the Colombian and Bolivian borders. However, over 80 percent of Peru’s coca continues to be grown in three “traditional” zones: the Alto Huallaga river zone in north-central Peru, the Apurímac and Ene valleys (VRAE) in central Peru, and the La Convención-Lares zone just to the east of the VRAE.