After hitting a low in 2012, Colombia's cultivation of coca, the base ingredient in cocaine, jumped 134% between 2013 and 2016, US officials said late last year. 2016 alone saw a 52% increase in the area under coca cultivation, rising to 360,774 acres from 237,221 acres in 2015, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Potential cocaine production jumped 34%, from 712 tons in 2015 to 954 tons a year later.
The amount of cocaine seized in the country also rose by nearly half, the UNODC said, from 253,591 kilos in 2015 to 378,260 kilos in 2016. That was accompanied by a 26% increase in the number of illegal cocaine labs destroyed, from 3,827 in 2015 to 4,842 the following year. (The real amounts are likely much higher than official estimates.) Colombia has faced pressure from the US to clamp down on that surge, but there were a variety of factors that drove it through 2016, when the government signed a peace accord with left-wing rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Under that deal, the government has pursued crop-substitution and alternative-development programs to pull farmers away from coca.
But a lack of resources has hindered implementation of those programs, and in lieu of an alternative, Colombian growers have forged ahead with the only one they can grow profitably.
"What really happened, I think, is that the government did stop fumigating, which was a factor," said Adam Isacson, the director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America. "It also cut way back on manual eradication, and it didn't make a presence" in often-marginalized parts of the country where cultivation has been the most intense, Isacson told Business Insider. Isacson, who spent a month on the ground in Colombia in February, pointed to Putumayo, a department on Colombia's southern border.
"That fringe area with Ecuador is no-man's land, and nobody's seen an eradicator or a development official, same for most of Catatumbo," he told Business Insider, referring to a region in the northwest Colombian department of Norte de Santander, where cultivation is also intense.
"So if it's no-man's land and you see your neighbor's now got waist-high coca bushes, and they're two years old and nobody's messed with him, it's probably pretty tempting to grow it yourself," Isacson said. Efforts to get farmers to grow other crops have faltered because they aren't economically viable — in part because getting those crops to market from rural, isolated areas eats away the profit margin.
Source: Business Insider