Peru Plans to Reduce Coca Production First Time in Eight Years

Peru plans to destroy coca bushes this year at a faster pace than growers expand output as the government seeks to curtail cultivation that has expanded for six straight years.

The government will eradicate a record 22,000 hectares (54,363 acres) of coca plants this year, which will reduce the size of the crop by 6 percent, Carmen Masias, the nation’s drug czar, told reporters in Lima.

Peru’s cultivation of the plant used to make cocaine increased 2 percent to 62,500 hectares in 2011, according to the United Nations, even after the government removed about 10,000 hectares of bushes. The Andean nation, which previously relied solely on foreign aid to finance eradication, will contribute 40 percent of this year’s $30 million budget to expand the program, Masias said. Total spending on the drug fight will rise 16 percent to $278 million.

“Eradication is completely indispensable but must go hand in hand with development” of alternative crops, such as cocoa and palm oil, Masias said. The U.S. government, the main source of drugs aid to Peru, agreed last year to provide $135 million through 2017 for alternative development, she said.

President Ollanta Humala’s government removed about 14,000 hectares of coca bushes last year, 40 percent more than in 2011, to slow growth in a crop that the United Nations says now rivals Colombia’s as the world’s largest.

The drive to curtail cultivation will be extended to the valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers, an area of jungle in the south of the country where holdout members of the Shining Path, a Maoist insurgency group, are active, Masias said.

The government is also removing coca bushes for the first time in the Monzon valley in northern Peru, where the crop has been grown for the drug trade for 80 years, she said.

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