A new UN study shows that while Colombia saw a slight drop in coca crop plantations between 2017 and 2018, this has not a knock-on impact on cocaine production, which continues to rise.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported on August 5 that Colombia's total area of coca crops decreased by 2,000 hectares between 2017 and 2018 from 171,000 in 2017 to 169,000 in 2018.
This is the first time that the United Nations agency had reported a decrease since 2014.
This reduction was concentrated in the departments of Nariño, Putumayo and Guaviare, while increases in coca cultivation were seen in the Norte de Santander, Bolívar and Cauca.
This was the second report confirming this trend. In late June, the White House Office for National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) published its findings, stating that coca crops decreased by 1,000 hectares from 209,000 to 208,000 hectares between 2017 and 2018.
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Despite a slight drop, the UNODC representative in Colombia, Pierre Lapaque, confirmed that "Colombia is still at the highest levels of coca crops."
But this trend has not been reflected in cocaine production. Despite lower coca crops, the total amount of cocaine produced in Colombia has risen, with the UNODC report estimating it went from 1,058 tons in 2017 to 1,120 in 2018.
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Colombia now faces a complicated paradox: coca cultivation is down, even if incrementally, but cocaine production is on the rise.
This contradiction reflects the difficulties facing Colombia's drug strategy. So far, the government has credited its Ruta Futuro (Future Path) anti-drug plan for reducing the number of hectares of coca crops, with some success. But although Ruta Futuro has been sold as a plan which will tackle all aspects of Colombia's fight against drugs, it has not been able to make the same dent in cocaine production.
This sustained increase in cocaine being made has been reflected in continuous seizures of several tons of the drug worldwide. In June, US authorities seized 15 tons of cocaine in the port of Philadelphia. That happened a few months after in February 1.4 tons of the drug were found in the port of New York.
And Colombia remains the country with the most cocaine seized in the world, although the total amount of seizures dropped by 4.7 percent, from 434.7 tons in 2017 to 414.5 tons in 2018.
According to the UNODC report, the rise in cocaine production is because coca crops are now increasingly concentrated in the most suitable areas of the country and the use of coca leaves providing higher yields. The report highlights just how concentrated coca production is in Colombia, with 44 percent of the country's crops being located in just 10 municipalities.
This shows that the forced eradication of coca crops, a pillar of the Colombian government's anti-drugs policy and which is on course to eradicate 80,000 hectares in 2019, does not correlate to lower cocaine production.
According to one Colombian coca crop production expert who spoke to InSight Crime on condition of anonymity, the best results in the fight against drugs come from attacking the production chain. This can be either from seizing inputs needed to produce cocaine, such as cement and gasoline, or by focusing on destroying the laboratories making the drug.