UN Says Colombia’s Cocaine Production at ‘Record High Levels’
Worker working a coca leaf plantation in Colombia. (Photo: Mike's Bogota Blog)

A United Nations report released by its UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Wednesday says that cultivation of the plant used to make cocaine has reached an all-time high in Colombia.

Annual data released by the UN indicates Colombian coca cultivation increased 17 percent to 171,000 hectares in 2017. This could mean cocaine production grew by an estimated 31 percent to 1,379 metric tons.

As in years past, the bulk of coca production in 2017 was concentrated in Colombia's southern region. Coca cultivation in Narino province alone surpassed 45,735 hectares — more than the entire amount found in Peru, the world's second-largest cocaine supplier after Colombia. Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine, much of which ends up in the U.S., which is the world's largest consumer.

The report said the potential production of cocaine had a value of $2.7 billion in the local market.

The UN said the increased supply has so far not resulted in any major drop in cocaine prices globally, although purity levels have risen considerably.

This new report will bring more pressure on Colombian President Ivan Duque to resume an aerial spraying program to kill cocoa plants suspended by his predecessor over health concerns.

Duque, when he took office last month, identified the coca surge as a national security risk. Officials have since said they want to resume aerial spraying of herbicide that was ended by former President Juan Manuel Santos three years ago amid peace talks with leftist rebels who were heavily involved in the drug trade.

Last year, Colombia also signed a $300 million agreement with the UN aimed at reducing the production of cocaine by compensating farmers who agree to switch from growing coca to safer crops. The country has fought for decades against cocaine production, with the U.S. providing around $400 million annually to assist in Colombia's war on drugs.