The U.S. government reported Monday that the amount of land in Colombia under cultivation with coca, the raw material for cocaine, increased 9 percent in 2006 over the previous year. The area under coca cultivation reached 388,000 acres in 2006, up 32,600 acres from 2005, based on figures released by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
WOLA, the research and advocacy group, believes these figures offer fresh and disturbing evidence that the U.S.-backed policy of aerial herbicide spraying of coca fields – a practice known as fumigation – is failing to curb coca production. On the contrary, fumigation is prompting farmers to replant as quickly and in as many locations as they can, contributing to the dispersal of coca growing and Colombia’s internal armed conflict to new areas of the country.
“Rather than weaken farmers’ reliance on coca, fumigation serves to reinforce it,” said WOLA Senior Associate John Walsh. “To insist at this point that more spraying will somehow deter farmers from replanting is not just unrealistic, it’s delusional.”
The report of a rise in coca cultivation followed another record-setting year of fumigation, with 425,000 acres sprayed, nearly 25 percent more than in 2005. Since 2000 the U.S.-backed program has sprayed herbicide on some 2.1 million acres in Colombia.
U.S. and Colombian authorities should focus resources on rural development, alternative livelihoods, and on-the-ground destruction of illegal coca plantations and end the wrong-headed, counter-productive focus on fumigation.