Colombia has increased its cultivation of coca plants – the main ingredient of cocaine – by 43%, according to a new report from the United Nations (UN).
Colombia is already the largest producer of cocaine in the world, last year the coca cultivation area expanded to 204,000 hectares.
It is the highest figure since the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) began collecting such data in 2001.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro has called the drug war a failure.
The newly elected leftist leader wants instead to regulate the industry and expand programs to substitute illegal crops, reports Katy Watson, the BBC’s Latin America correspondent.
Most of Colombia’s cocaine is headed for Europe and the United States, which is the world’s largest consumer of the illicit drug.
For years, Colombia has struggled to get farmers away from coca production, but promises to provide incentives and subsidies have not materialized, Watson explains.
The UN report says that the largest coca cultivation takes place in the department of Norte de Santander, in the northeast of Colombia, and two departments in the southwest, on the border with Ecuador: Nariño and Putumayo.
The municipality of Tibú in northern Santander, on the border with Venezuela, has the highest level of coca cultivation of any municipality in Colombia: 22,000 hectares.
The crop is especially thriving in areas close to national borders or with easy access to the sea, the report says.
Illegal armed gangs, drug traffickers and producers work together in these regions.
UNODC says coca cultivation continues to threaten Colombia’s biodiversity and contribute to deforestation. About half of the coca plantations are in special management areas, including forest reserves.
Aerial spraying of glyphosate to combat illicit crops was suspended in 2015, after a court ruled that the herbicide could cause cancer and contaminate the land.
President Petro’s predecessor, Iván Duque, strongly supported the US war on drugs.
In 2020, former US President Donald Trump told Colombia to resume aerial spraying.
But earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Petro in Colombia and said they share “broad common ground” on the coca problem.
“We strongly support the holistic approach that the Petro government is taking,” Blinken said.
“Both on the application side and the holistic approach to the problem… I think we’re pretty much in sync.”
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