The annual United Nations report on coca cultivation in Colombia shows the number of hectares cultivated has dropped by a quarter, although this does not necessarily translate into a drop in cocaine production.
Throughout the year, Colombian authorities aerially eradicated 100,549 hectares and manually eradicated a further 34,486, the report said. This, when taking into account replanting in certain areas, reduced the area affected by cultivation from an estimated 135,000 to the final 48,000 figure by the end of the year.
Coca crops are now present in 23 of Colombia’s 32 states or departments, as they are known in Colombia, but 80 percent of cultivation is concentrated in eight departments and around 50 percent in three departments. While production fell in 17 departments, it grew in the guerrilla strongholds of Norte de Santander and Caqueta. It also rose in Choco, where both guerrilla groups and the drug trafficking paramilitary successor groups known as the BACRIM (from the Spanish “bandas criminales” or “criminal bands”) operate.
The “farm-gate” value of coca leaf and derivatives — cocaine base and paste — was estimated at $370 million, a drop from 2011 estimates, which stood at $422 million. Prices for base, paste and powdered cocaine remained mostly stable, seeing just small fluctuations.
The average gross income for a coca farmer was estimated at $1,220 for the year, with 60 percent of coca farmers financially dependent on the crop — down from 82 percent in 2005. Around 30 percent of coca farmers are believed to also be involved in processing coca leaf into cocaine base.
Calculations for total cocaine production remain stable and were estimated at 309 tons.
Colombia Coca Crops (Source: UNODC)
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The UNODC figures appear to show substantial gains for the Colombian government in its battle to eradicate coca crops. However, there are several complicating factors that may mean the drop in cultivation has not necessarily resulted in an equivalent drop in cocaine production. Put simply, the question is: how are estimates for cocaine production relatively stable while those for cultivation have dropped by a quarter?
One of these is the number of yields per year. While the UN notes annual yields have been falling since 2005, it offers no precise figures, and in some areas coca crops are known to now produce up to six yields a year.
Another factor is the introduction of superior coca strains, which has higher alkaloid content and so can produce more cocaine per ton of leaf. Higher yield means less area needs to be cultivated to produce similar total amounts.
Lastly, there are questions about the methodology of the study. It is well known that the aerial photographs are taken on the last two days of the year, and, as La Silla Vacia points out, the Colombian government concentrates its eradication efforts during the period leading up to these photos, effectively skewing the results.