UNODC reports divergent coca cultivation trends in the Andean countries

22 June 2010 - Coca crop surveys of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru issued today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) show a five per cent drop in the amount of coca being grown in the Andean countries - the world's main source for cocaine's raw material - from 167,000 hectares (ha) in 2008 to 158,000 ha in 2009.

In Colombia, cultivation was cut by 16 per cent to 68,000 ha, which is a decline of almost 60 per cent since the peak of a decade ago. "The drug control policy adopted by the Colombian government over the past few years - combining security and development - is paying off," said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa. Cocaine production in Colombia fell to 410 metric tons, a nine per cent year-on-year reduction.

Cultivating coca in Colombia has clearly become riskier and less profitable for organized crime. Coca farmers barely earn over one US dollar a day. The total farm-gate value of coca production has dropped by 21 per cent, to below half a billion dollars (US$494 million), which is 0.2 per cent of GDP. Coca plots are becoming smaller, more dispersed and less productive, thus increasing the demand of local communities for legal sustainable livelihood initiatives.

Colombia's frontal action against coca cultivation and cocaine production is matched by effective anti-trafficking policies. Cocaine seizures within Colombia reached 200 metric tons in 2009 which represents a significant percentage of the cocaine produced (between a quarter and a half depending on purity).

The news from Peru is worrisome. Coca cultivation in Peru continues to rise (for the fourth year in a row), up 6.8 per cent to 59,900 hectares (compared to 56,100 ha in 2008). Indeed, 55 per cent more coca is now grown in Peru than a decade ago, although this year's total is still half of what it was two decades ago.

"If the current trend continues, Peru will soon overtake Colombia as the world's biggest coca producer - a notorious status that it has not had since the mid 1990s," warned Mr. Costa. "I invite the Peruvian government to take concerted action on all fronts to improve the delivery of public health and security by expanding sustainable livelihood initiatives, drug prevention and treatment programmes, law enforcement and regional cooperation," said the head of UNODC.

There was little change in coca cultivation in Bolivia: a one per cent increase to 30,900 hectares. Nevertheless, this is twice the amount of a decade ago. "More eradication and greater support for development, not least for alternative livelihoods, are needed in the Yungas and Chapare regions," said the head of UNODC. "Urgent action is also required to repair the environmental damage caused to regions that have been severely affected by mono-cultivation of coca crops."

Market forces seem to be making coca less profitable. In 2009, Bolivia's coca farmers earned ten per cent less for the coca leaf (US$265 million in 2009, down from US$293 million in 2008).

"There are limits to what the Andean governments can do if people keep snorting cocaine. It is therefore up to governments in coke consuming countries - mostly in Europe and North America - to take their share of responsibility and reduce demand for cocaine," said Mr. Costa.

Due to the on-going review of conversion factors from coca leaves to pure cocaine - by  improving the precision of estimates based on alkaloid content of coca leaves and laboratory efficiency as well as cultivation and yield - UNODC is not putting a point estimate on the level of cocaine production in Bolivia and Peru this year. Because of this uncertainty, global cocaine production in 2009 was estimated as a range, 842-1,111 metric tones.

These coca surveys refer only to cultivation. The UNODC 2010 World Drug Report , to be issued tomorrow, on 23 June, gives a complete picture of the cocaine market, including demand and trafficking as well as supply.

2009 Colombia Coca Cultivation Survey (in Spanish)
2009 Peru Coca Cultivation Survey (in Spanish)
2009 Bolivia Coca Cultivation Survey (in Spanish)