Colombia’s Coca Production at All-Time High, UN Says

Lauren Smith
Morgan Blair
Written by Lauren Smith on 27 September 2023
Medically reviewed by Morgan Blair on 05 June 2024

With more Colombian land planted with coca than ever before, the country’s potential cocaine production soared by 24% last year, a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) revealed.

Colombia’s Coca Production at All-Time High, UN Says

Potential cocaine production in Colombia is at a twenty-year high

In 2022, 230,000 hectares or nearly 570,000 acres of land in Colombia were planted with coca bushes, the precursor to cocaine. Overall cultivation of the plant was up 13%, with the biggest increase seen in the southern province of Putumayo. The province, from which cocaine is easily smuggled across the border to Peru and Ecuador, saw a 77% rise in coca cultivation in just a year.

With more raw coca being produced, Colombia’s potential production of cocaine has climbed by a quarter (24%) to 1,738 tons, the highest level seen in two decades, the report found.

“It is worrying that each year there is an increase in coca crops in the country,” UNODC regional director Candice Welsch said.

Rise in coca farming follows decline after peace deal

Colombia’s cocaine production dipped between 2017 and 2020, after the government reached a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The guerrilla group that once controlled 60% of the country’s coca fields. But planting has been on the rise since 2021, as smaller armed groups have seized control fields abandoned by the demobilized FARC.

Colombia is the world’s largest exporter of the stimulant and the source of 90% of the cocaine sold in the United States.

Government has emphasised voluntary crop substitution over forced eradication of coca

Responding to the UN report, Colombia’s government said the pace of growth of coca cultivation had slowed. “We are flattening the curve,” said Justice Minister Nestor Osuna, noting that coca farming increased by 40% between 2020 and 2021.

Colombia’s leftwing government has pursued a new strategy against cocaine, rejecting the militarized, U.S.-backed approach that President Gustavo Petro has called “irrational" and “a resounding failure.”

Petro reiterated his approach at a summit on drug trafficking in Cali, Colombia last week. “It is time to rebuild hope and not repeat the bloody and ferocious wars, the ill-named ‘war on drugs’, viewing drugs as a military problem and not as a health problem for society,” he said.

Rather than targeting subsistence farmers, Petro has pledged to pursue high-level drug traffickers. He’s scaled back the forced destruction of coca plants, slashing the government’s eradication targets for 2023 by 60% and focusing efforts on “industrial fields,” vast farms where homes and other crops aren’t present.  

Small-scale farmers are incentivized to voluntarily destroy their coca fields and in exchange offered compensation, subsidies, and technical assistance to begin cultivating other crops, such as black pepper.

Falling cocaine prices could push farmers toward other crops

While coca cultivation increased in Colombia’s border regions, it fell in the interior as coca leaf prices have cratered. With a glut of cocaine on the market, coca leaf, often a cash crop for farmers, is fetching just 30% of its previous price. 

That price drop gives crop substitution programs a “golden window of opportunity” to help farmers move away from illicit crops, Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst for Colombia at the International Crisis Group, told the Financial Times.

Osuna said that Colombia will also tackle cocaine production by improving infrastructure, education, and health in regions where coca is grown.

“The success of our drug policy should be measured in terms of the reduction of violent crime, and the reduction of poverty in those regions where coca is cultivated,” he said.

The United Nations agrees. “We have to work on strengthening legal economies… and not just attacking illicit economies,” Leonardo Correa, regional coordinator for the UN's coca monitoring system, said.

Resources:

  1. UN says Colombia’s coca crop at all-time high as officials promote new drug policies. (2023, September 11). AP News.
  2. Colombia cocaine: Coca cultivation reaches record high. (2023, September 12). BBC News.
  3. Daniels, J. (2023, September 11). Colombia’s coca production at all-time high, UN says. Financial Times.
  4. Phippen, J. W. (2016, July 1). Who Will Control Colombia’s Cocaine Without FARC? The Atlantic.
  5. Irrational war on drugs, destruction of the Amazon, expose humanity’s failures, Colombia’s Petro tells UN. (2022, September 20). UN News.
  6. Noriega, C. (2023, January 24). Colombia shifts strategy in drug war away from coca eradication. Www.aljazeera.com.
  7. Peace Leaders in Putumayo, Colombia Bet Their Lives on Coca Crop Substitution. (2023, August 8). InSight Crime.

Activity History - Last updated: 05 June 2024, Published date:


Reviewer

Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan is a mental health counselor who works alongside individuals of all backgrounds struggling with eating disorders. Morgan is freelance mental health and creative writer who regularly contributes to publications including, Psychology Today.

Activity History - Medically Reviewed on 26 September 2023 and last checked on 05 June 2024

Medically reviewed by
Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan Blair

Reviewer

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