Colombia will launch a new strategy involving regular checks by the security forces to prevent coca farmers replanting crops after eradication, following the UN's announcement that the area under coca cultivation in Colombia had increased slightly for the first time in five years.
In its 2011 coca cultivation survey, released July 25, the United Nations (UN) found that the area of the crop rose to 64,000 hectares in 2011, up 3 percent from 62,000 the previous year. The UN said that this meant the overall picture was “stable.” (See graph, below, via Colombia Reports).
Despite the increased area under cultivation, the country’s potential cocaine production dropped slightly to 345 tons from 350, as the yield per hectare went down. This is likely due to farmers using less fertilizer and other chemical aids, said the report.
In response to the UN's report, the government announced a new plan to combat the replanting of coca crops, to be launched Friday by the Ministry of Defense, reported El Tiempo. "Plan Nariño" will focus on the provinces of Putumayo, Norte de Santander, Cauca and Guaviare, as well as Nariño. In these parts of the country, the security forces will be stationed in the area of a coca plantation during and after eradication, and will carry out surveys of cleared fields every eight or 15 days to make sure they are not being replanted. The government will also put in place food security and development projects to try to make the move away from coca sustainable. The rate of replanting is currently at 55 percent, according to the UN.
Some 62 percent of coca cultivation took place in the provinces of Nariño, Putumayo, Cauca and Guaviare in 2011, said the report. The first three sit in the southwest, close to the Pacific coast and the Ecuadorean border, while Guaviare is in the jungle interior of the country, southeast of Bogota. The biggest growth in cultivation was in Putumayo and the neighboring province in Caqueta, which together saw a rise of 80 percent to 13,280 hectares.
At a press conference in Bogota, a representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said that it would not be known whether Peru was ahead of Colombia in cocaine and coca leaf production until August, when that country’s coca survey is released, reported the LA Times.
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The Colombian figures were revealed last month by newspaper El Tiempo, which reported that the publication of the survey was delayed because the government and anti-organized crime bodies asked the UN to review their analysis, particularly for Putumayo.
The UN figures will be politically problematic for the administration of Juan Manuel Santos, as they back criticisms of the government being made most forcefully by former President Alvaro Uribe, who says that Santos is letting security slide. It will therefore be important for the government to be seen to take action in response to the slight increase in crop area, despite the fact that potential cocaine production -- a far more significant metric -- fell in 2011.
A version of this piece appeared on the Pan-American Post.