Colombia is set to end the use of aerial fumigation of coca after President Juan Manuel Santos on Saturday called on the National Drug Council to ban spraying the chemical that is alleged to cause cancer.
Santos said in Bogota that he would ask to the body that regulates the eradication of illicit crops to phase out the use of the controverted chemical within six months.
“I am going to ask the government officials in the National Drug Council at their next meeting to suspend glyphosate spraying of illicit cultivation [of coca],” Santos said.
The president said that he will urge the increase manual eradication of coca, which has also been controverted because of the high number of casualties among eradicators due to landmines planted to protect the coca, poppy and marijuana fields.
Colombia, supported by the US, has been using areal fumigation for 20 years.
US ‘respects’ move
According to the Washington Post, the United States ambassador to Bogota said the US government respects Santos’ decision.
The US had been among the last to support aerial fumigation in spite of consistent complaints that Roundup, the used chemical, was indiscriminately destroying crops and causing health problems among locals in areas where the spraying took place.
American companies provide the chemicals, and the personnel and planes that carry out the fumigation, and have fumigated more than 4 million acres of land.
Effectiveness of aerial fumigation questioned after rise in coca
While allegedly causing health damage and destroying other vegetation than coca, the practice has long been seen as the most effective when it comes to eradicating the crops that provide the basic ingredient for cocaine.
Because of this, conservative sectors in Colombia and US politics have called for continued aerial spraying.
However, amid growing coca cultivation numbers between 2013 and 2014, this claim has also been called into question.
While in 2014 aerial spraying went up 12% and manual eradication efforts nearly halved, the amount of hectares used for coca plantations went up 20%, according to Colombia’s defense ministry.
According to the US, this increase was as high as 39%.
How aerial fumigation lost its glance
The disappointing numbers in effectiveness of aerial spraying came only days after a World Health Organization-backed report said that glycophate, the chemical used in Roundup, is possibly causing of cancer.
Since the WHO report that controverted the Monsanto chemical, Colombia’s health minister and the country’s prosecutor general openly joined the opposition to the use of aerial fumigation.
Colombia seeking alternative policies to combat drugs
The Santos administration is currently negotiating peace with rebel group FARC, one of Colombia’s illegal armed groups most intensely involved in coca cultivation.
At the same time, Colombia’s justice minister asked the United Nations to come up with alternative policies to combat drugs, claiming “we declared a war that hasn’t been won. Because of this, it will be imperative to on a global level come up with and agree on policies and interventions that allow us to respond to this enormous challenge in a more humane, intelligent and effective way.”
Colombia has long been the primary producer of cocaine found on US consumption markets.