Peru’s coca crop increased for a sixth straight year in 2011 as producers diversify away from areas targeted by U.S. government-backed efforts to eradicate the plant used to make cocaine.
The area under cultivation increased 2.1 percent to 62,500 hectares (154,441 acres) from 61,200 hectares in 2010, according to a report released yesterday by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Cultivation increased in 10 of Peru’s 11 growing areas covered by the agency’s survey last year, led by a 40 percent rise in plantations in the northeast near the Brazilian border to 4,450 hectares. Production is rising to meet demand for crack and cocaine in Europe and Brazil, which is the largest market in the Americas after the U.S.
“Drug traffickers are becoming more efficient” said Flavio Mirella, the head of the agency’s Peruvian office, during a presentation of the report in Lima. “Traffickers need less coca leaf to produce more cocaine. Routes of supply are diversifying and producing areas are getting closer to certain routes of exit” toward Bolivia and Brazil, he said.
New growing areas have compensated for slower growth in the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, Peru’s top-growing area since 2010, where there is little room to expand, and the Alto Huallaga area, where eradication is focused, said Mirella.
Maoist guerrillas protecting growing areas and transit routes for cocaine consignments have stepped up attacks on army patrols this year, leading the government to allocate greater resources for the drugs fight in next year’s budget.
President Ollanta Humala aims to increase manual eradication of coca crops to 30,000 hectares by 2016 from its target of 14,000 hectares this year while encouraging farmers to switch to alternative crops such as cocoa and coffee.
Cultivation of the crop in Colombia rose for the first time since 2007 last year, expanding 3 percent to 64,000 hectares, while the crop contracted by about 12 percent in Bolivia, according to the agency.
Peru and Bolivia have overtaken Colombia to become the world’s biggest cocaine producers, according to a U.S. government report published July 30.
Europe remains the biggest market for cocaine shipments from Peru while Colombia is the top supplier of cocaine to the U.S., according to the UN agency.