(AA) – Peru’s eradication of coca leaf plantings jumped to its highest on record in 2014, its drug-fighting agency said Wednesday.
The Andean nation ripped out 77,112 acres (31,206 hectares) of the raw ingredient in cocaine, a 30 percent rise on 2013’s total, according to the National Commission for Development of Life and Drugs, or Devida.
Peru overtook Colombia in 2013 to become the world’s top producer of the coca leaf and cocaine, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Coca bush cultivation in Peru fell to 123,000 acres (49,800 hectares) in 2013, a seven-year low, according to the latest UN figures.
“The figure is absolutely historic,” Alberto Otarola, president of Devida, told reporters in Lima. “Thirty-one thousand fewer hectares means 240 tons [of cocaine] haven’t been produced, and $250 million in exports of alternative crops.”
Last June, President Ollanta Humala said the government would push development of alternative crops, like cocoa and coffee, in the cradle of the country’s cocaine-production called the Vrae.
The Vrae, or Vraem, the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers, is the last stronghold of the Shining Path terrorist insurgency, which controls production in the jungle region. The area making up about half of all coca bush cultivation in Peru and nearly all of that produced in neighbor Bolivia, regularly sees violent clashes. More than 100 soldiers and policeman have died since 2008. Until 2006 deemed out of state control.
Otarola, a former defense minister in Humala’s administration, said a return to suspended eradication plans in the Vrae was “under study” with no coca-growing region “untouchable.”
Nationally, 133,000 acres (53,680) hectares of former coca-growing areas were converted to sow licit crops last year, beating a 54,000-acre (22,000-hectare) target, he said.
Coletta Youngers, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America welcomed the figures, saying they suggested force eradication led to cultivation reductions in the short term. Experts say farmers often quickly replant coca leaves after eradication.
“But unless alternative sources of income are in place, farmers will move to new areas or replant resulting in static or even increased coca cultivation in the medium to long term,” Youngers added.
Operations were underway to curb the flow of the white powder on three main transit routes, Otarola said.
The government will set up a permanent military post near the Colombia-Brazil tri-border in the northern Peruvian Amazon.
Peru was moreover collaborating with Bolivian authorities to stem the “air bridge,” where small cargo planes fly packages to Bolivia, destined for Europe via Brazilian ports. All pilots must declare themselves to aviation authorities, with a radar being installed near the border, Otarola said.
The U.S. State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs said up too 198 tons (180 metric tons) of cocaine were flown out of Peru in 2013, the main export method for the white powder.
But experts dispute this strategy, with authorities’ severely curbed by an inability to shoot down suspicious planes, following a change in legislation following a 2001 tragedy when Peru’s air force shot down a civilian plane.
The drug-fighting agency was also stepping up personnel at ports and airports.
Devida had a $7.1 million budget with key funding coming from the U.S. and European Union.