An increase in coca cultivation and cocaine production in Peru is playing a large role in fueling the current global cocaine boom, according to a new report.
The report, published in September by Peru's National Commission for Development and Life without Drugs (Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo y Vida sin Drogas - DEVIDA), has offered insights into the country’s impact on the global cocaine supply, as traffickers push their illicit product beyond the traditional destinations of the United States and Europe into developing markets including Australia, West Africa, and the Middle East.
InSight Crime provides four key takeaways on the impact of rising Peruvian coca production both nationally and across the globe.
Peru Coca Contributes to International Boom
Peruvian coca cultivation has expanded again, rising from 61,777 hectares in 2020 to an historic 80,681 hectares in 2021. This is providing greater amounts of the base ingredient needed to power ever-increasing global cocaine manufacture, which, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2021, doubled between 2014 and 2019, before jumping by a further 11 percent from 2019 to 2020.
Despite this production increase, the cocaine economy does not seem to be hitting a ceiling even in the traditional markets of the US and Western Europe where supply has continued apace. Prices remain stable as criminal organizations expand their consumer base in these traditional markets and, in parallel, find footholds in new markets.
Cultivation Rises Regionally
The resounding theme of the report was the swelling of coca cultivation across the country. The 14 zones that were monitored in both this and the previous report showed a collective expansion of roughly 23 percent, from 61,777 hectares in 2020, to 76,158 hectares in 2021.
But this year, Peruvian authorities added five new zones (Amazonas, Bajo Huallaga, Bajo Ucayali, Camanati and Madre de Dios) to the monitoring list, which together contributed 4,523 hectares to the overall figure. With this, Peru’s coca cultivation hit the record 80,681 hectares.
Peru is not alone in seeing cultivation figures trend upwards significantly. Bolivia has seen an incremental rise in the leaf’s production in recent years, while countries not previously associated with mass coca cultivation have sprung onto the scene.
As InSight Crime revealed, Venezuela now has a fledgling coca cultivation industry, and longtime low-level producer, Honduras, is ratcheting its production power. The Honduran government eradicated a record-breaking 543,000 coca plants between January and March this year, as well as three coca labs that were capable of producing over half a ton of cocaine annually.
Colombian gangs are successfully battling against ambitious coca eradication strategies in their country, where improved drug processing and the return of “mega-labs” has allowed the criminals to increase cocaine production in spite of slightly decreased coca availability.
Eradication Efforts Slump
The lack of state presence, not only in the Amazon but throughout key coca production zones in Peru, was heavily exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Coca eradication efforts, where the government forcibly removes coca plants, fell by the wayside. The report noted that in 2019, Peru’s government eradicated 25,526 hectares of coca. In 2020, the figure plummeted to 6,273 hectares. In 2021, it shrank again by nearly 500 hectares.
Security expert Pedro Yaranga lamented a lack of political will to maintain eradication efforts, telling InSight Crime that “in the last five years and particularly in this government, Peru has renounced a policy of fighting against drug trafficking.”
Cocaine reduction efforts have also likely slipped down the order of government priorities, as President Pedro Castillo has appointed 67 ministers during his 13 months in charge, staggering from crisis to political crisis.
And attitudes on eradication appear to be shifting regionally. At the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), President Gustavo Petro of Colombia, the world’s foremost cocaine-producing nation, criticized US anti-drug policies across the region, saying “the war on drugs has failed.” Bolivia’s President Luis Arce echoed Petro's words and suggested a change in his country’s approach to combating drugs, which he said would be "less militarized and more focused on economic and social aspects."
VRAEM Vital, Border Regions Grow
The traditional coca growing region in Peru -- the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM) -- accounts for 40 percent of the country’s coca production. Crops here grew by another 15 percent between 2020 and 2021.
The VRAEM is the country’s top producer for both the drug’s base component and the final product of crystallized cocaine. Small family clans have long controlled production and work under the protection of the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), also known as the Militarized Communist Party of Peru (Militarizado Partido Comunista de Peru - MPCP), the deadliest non-state actor in the country.
Border departments were runners up in coca cultivation growth. In the north, the department of Loreto, which borders both Ecuador and Brazil, now accounts for 12 percent of Peru’s cultivation. Puno, a southern department that borders Bolivia, is responsible for eight percent.
This proliferation along Peru’s Brazil and Bolivia borders is of special importance. Peruvian coca has been a mainstay of Bolivia’s illicit market for years. Due to a steep price imbalance, the Peruvian leaf is sought after by traffickers in Bolivia. Similarly, as Brazilian cocaine traffickers work to expand their global footprint, sourcing greater amounts of coca from just across the border with Peru could be a useful diversification given that Brazilian traffickers have historically secured much of their finished product from Bolivia alone.
Regardless, the spread of coca in the border regions of Peru’s Amazon is cause for concern given the reduced ability of the government in Lima to effectively combat narco-trafficking in such remote areas.