The government of Peru hopes to halve the amount of coca grown in the country by 2021, an ambitious plan that is unlikely to succeed unless a concerted effort is made to improve upon lackluster crop-substitution programs.
“By 2021, we want a 50 percent reduction in Peru’s coca space,” said Carmen Masías, president of the National Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs (Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo y Vida Sin Drogas – DEVIDA). Her comments came as Peru’s joint chiefs of staff approved a document outlining the country’s anti-drug strategy for the next five years, reported La República. In addition to reducing the number of coca crops, the document proposes to boost efforts to increase cocaine seizures and expand the planting of alternative crops that farmers can substitute for coca.
Masías said Peru aims to eradicate 30,000 hectares of coca per year, reported La República. The government set a record in 2015 by destroying more than 35,000 hectares of the plant. She also said the government is seeking to raise the number of farmers benefiting from crop substitution programs from the current level of 70,000 to 90,000 by 2021.
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In recent years, Peru has managed to reduce its coca output by destroying unprecedented amounts of coca. The number of coca hectares sown in Peru began to fall in 2012, the same year that eradication totals began to rise sharply.
But its unlikely this decline will continue unless the government directs more resources to crop-substitution programs that enable farmers to make a living from crops other than coca. An investigation by the Associated Press found that less than half of all coca farmers affected by eradication in 2014 received any form of compensation from the government.
Even among those who did receive benefits, some complained that they earned nowhere near as much as when they were cultivating coca. One family said it made just $1 for a bundle of bananas, compared to the $1,000 it earned every four months growing coca.
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Farmers are already beginning to re-plant coca in the same fields destroyed by eradication teams. Masías noted last year that the re-cultivation rate has reached over 90 percent in some of the affected areas.
What is happening now in Colombia should serve as an warning for Peru. Aerial and manual eradication has been a centerpiece of Colombia’s anti-drug strategy for years (although it suspended aerial eradication in 2015 over health concerns.) The country’s coca crops dropped from over 167,000 hectares in 2007 to 78,000 hectares in 2012, but have risen sharply since 2013 and may have even surpassed 200,000 hectares in 2016.
While other factors have contributed to the rise in coca crops, the state’s neglect of farmers and rural communities has certainly facilitated Colombia’s surge in coca production.