The potential cocaine production in Colombia shot up a staggering 46% between 2014 and 2015, meaning the country now has the resources to produce 646 metric tons (712 US tons) of cocaine.
The growth measured by both the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs (UNODC) and the US government is very much regionally determined.
While coca cultivation dropped in central Colombia, the Sierra Nevada mountains in the north and in the Amazon region, growth exploded in lawless areas on the Venezuelan and Ecuadorean borders and the Pacific coast.
According to the UNODC, there are several reasons explaining this.
The UNODC registered a major increase in the price of coca. While coca farmers only received 73 cents per kilo in 2014, last year this had become a dollar.
New growing techniques
While both the production of coca and cocaine have gone up, the areas affected by this have not. According to the UNODC they have been reduced even.
This means that new growing techniques allow for a more intense cultivation that result in more coca leaves per square meter.
The El Niño weather phenomenon caused major drought particularly in the northern Antioquia, Cordoba and Cesar provinces. With legal crops dying, some farmers turned to the growing of coca, which is more drought resistant than many other crops.
End to aerial spraying without alternative
Colombia has long opted for the US-sponsored aerial fumigation of coca crops. However, the Monsanto weed killer used to kill coca has long been controversial and the technique was banned last year amid fears it could cause cancer.
According to locals, the aerial spraying kills all crops, leaving them entirely without livelihood and more vulnerable to returning to coca.
However, while the aerial spraying has stopped, alternative programs have inadequately or not yet been implemented.
According to Colombia’s Defense Ministry, manual eradication has dropped from 95,731 hectares in 2008 to 13,472 hectares in 2014 amid ongoing protests over the high number of dead due to minefields laid by drug traffickers and guerrillas to protect the coca.
Anticipated crop substitution program
The government and the country’s largest rebel group FARC have been negotiating peace since 2012 and agreed to carry out an extensive crop substitution program if peace is agreed.
Peru, which has never allowed the aerial spraying of coca because of the devastating effects, has been producing positive results for years using crop substitution programs.
However, Colombia has only just kicked off its first pilot crop substitution program in anticipation of a peace with the FARC.
The UNODC believes that some farmers have stepped up coca cultivation hoping it will generate more economic security once crop substitution program, combined with infrastructure projects, are rolled out across the country.