Coca cultivation in Colombia, one of the world’s biggest cocaine producers, rose 39% last year as farmers ramped up production on hopes they would be paid to switch to legal crops if peace is signed with Marxist FARC rebels, the government said on Thursday.
The increase in coca cultivation also coincided with the suspension last year of aerial fumigation using the herbicide glyphosate, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said.
The area under coca cultivation rose to 96,000 hectares at the end of 2015, its highest level in seven years, and up from 69,000 hectares a year earlier, Villegas said, using data from the United Nations.
Coca cultivation in Colombia
“The government is very worried about these numbers, but it’s not surprising,” Villegas told reporters.
Farmers growing coca, the raw material for cocaine, have expanded cultivation or switched from legitimate crops after government promises of subsidies and technical help to create coffee plantations and raise crops like fruits and beans once peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is achieved.
FARC rebels earn money taxing coca growers and are involved in the production and trafficking of cocaine. They have agreed to help coca eradication once a peace accord is signed.
The government has engaged in negotiations with the FARC since the end of 2012 in a bid to end five decades of war that has killed more than 220,000 and displaced millions. A final deal is expected this year.
Glyphosate use was stopped last year after various scientific reports, including one by the World Health Organization (WHO), suggested the weed killer is likely carcinogenic to humans.
Peru, Colombia and Bolivia are the world’s biggest coca producers.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Helen Murphy; Editing by Andrew Hay)