COLOMBIA NEWS – Total coca cultivation in Colombia remained stable in 2013, though it became more concentrated in certain regions of the country, due in part to a decline in coca crops in areas where criminal groups have turned to informal mining.
According to the most recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report (pdf), a total of 48,189 hectares of coca were cultivated in Colombia last year, compared to 47,790 in 2012. A total of 82 percent of the crop area was concentrated in only six of the 33 departments.
Although the total number of hectares remained roughly constant, cultivation shrunk in most of the departments with coca crops. The largest reduction was in Antioquia, where crop area decreased 64 percent, followed by neighboring Cordoba, Bolivar and Choco.
Meanwhile, cultivation increased significantly in some border departments. Some 56 percent of the country’s cultivition was in the departments of Norte de Santander, which borders Venezuela, and Nariño and Putumayo, which border Ecuador.
UNODC also highlighted a decrease in aerial fumigation and manual eradication efforts, but applauded alternative development programs for encouraging crop substitution and other economic activities in the most-affected regions.
According to the most recent UNODC figures, Colombia retained its position as the world’s second largest coca producer in 2013, only slightly behind Peru, where a total of 49,800 hectares were grown last year. Bolivia came in third, with 23,000 hectares.
Within Colombia, the increased regional concentration of coca production can be attributed to a number of factors, including the growing reliance of criminal groups on alternative sources of income, such as mining. In Antioquia and the surrounding region, criminal groups have shifted their focus to taxing informal mining operations, instead of drug crops. Illegal gold mining has surpassed coca cultivation as the main source of revenue for criminal groups in at least eight departments, including the four with the largest decreases in coca cultivation in 2013.
Another factor is protests and attacks that impeded eradication efforts in 2013. According to El Tiempo, the increase in coca cultivation in the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian border regions was partly the result of strikes that blocked mobile eradication units. Two fumigation planes were shot down over the course of a few days in September and October 2013 in attacks thought to be carried out by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Forced eradication will likely decrease further if the government reaches a peace agreement with the FARC. The government has promised to focus on illegal crop substitution programs and encourage voluntary eradication if an agreement is signed, only resorting to forced eradication in extreme circumstances.