Coca Cultivation in Colombia – The Story Behind the Numbers

State Dept. findings of decrease in cultivation mask replanting in other areas, human cost of fumigation program


Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy 202-232-3317


Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group work 202-546-7010


Anna Cederstav, Earthjustice 510-550-6700

The State Department today released findings showing that the cultivation of coca, the base material for cocaine, decreased in Colombia in 2002, from 169,800 to 144,000 hectares. Since 2000, the United States government has promoted a program of intensive aerial spraying, or fumigation, of coca crops in the southern region of the country.

While supporters of the program will laud the findings as evidence of the effectiveness of fumigation, the numbers cannot be taken to reflect a country- or region-wide decrease, as they were not designed to measure the replanting of coca in areas outside of the target areas that were fumigated. Nor can the numbers depict the human or environmental costs of the fumigation program, which scientists, human rights organizations, the United Nations, and the Colombian government’s human rights ombudsman have depicted as great.

In 1996, when large-scale U.S.-supported fumigation began in Colombia, only four departments (provinces) had more than 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of coca. Today, at least thirteen have that much. While the increase in Colombia has historically been paralleled by a decrease in cultivation in other countries, the trend seems to be shifting back: today’s State Department numbers show moderate increases (2,000-3,000 hectares) in Bolivia and Peru. In January, Peruvian authorities announced that coca cultivation in Peru increased 28% in 2002.

The following analysts are available for interviews on this topic:

Adam Isacson coordinates the Colombia program for the Washington, DC-based Center for International Policy: “The United States has sprayed more than a million acres in Colombia since 1996, yet we’ve seen the amount of coca triple in that period. Worse, the total amount grown in all of South America hasn’t budged, thanks to increased cultivation in Peru and Bolivia. We’ve seen that fumigation is able to reduce coca-growing temporarily in a limited area, but re-planting in new areas will occur as quickly as the laws of supply and demand dictate.”

Lisa Haugaard is the Executive Director of the Latin America Working Group: “While US drug policy in the Andes is a shell-game — pushing drug production from one place to another — it is a shell game with enormous human costs. In a country where over 300,000 people per year are displaced by political violence, US-sponsored fumigation forces farm families and members of indigenous communities to flee their homes. The policy destroys livelihoods and food without a decent attempt to provide alternatives.”

Anna Cederstav, Ph.D, is a staff scientist with Earthjustice and Program Director of the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA): “The US-Colombia drug eradication program poses an unacceptable environmental risk to one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. The widespread spraying and drift of a potent herbicide that kills most plants is devastating thousands of acres of important habitat in Colombia. The potential impacts to native flora and wildlife are unknown because the herbicide hasn’t been studied in these tropical ecosystems. Further, most coca and poppy farmers just replant or clear new plots in the forest. Because the State Department only reports on current crop acreage, there is no way to assess how the eradication program is accelerating the loss of Amazonian forests. A smart eradication strategy would protect the environment and promote alternative livelihoods for struggling campesinos.”

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