UN Report: More Coca in Peruvian Amazon

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A new United Nations report highlights the increase in coca cultivations in Peru, and the growing importance of drug trafficking from this Andean nation to Brazil and Bolivia.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) coca cultivation survey found that coca cultivation overall increased in Peru for the sixth consecutive year, now registering 62,500 hectares. 

The report does not include estimates for Peru’s total potential cocaine production, stating that the UNODC is currently carrying out a study in order to better determine how much coca leaf is actually needed to produce cocaine base or cocaine hydrochloride. A study released this year by the White House found that Peru is now the world’s top producer of cocaine, surpassing Colombia, although these findings have been questioned. The UNODC report does not specify when it will release its own findings on Peru’s potential cocaine production. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

One trend identified in the UNODC’s report is the growth of coca cultivations in Peru’s northern Amazon, including the regions of Cajamarca, Amazonas, and the largest and most sparsely populated province of Loreto. The UNODC found 4,450 hectares of coca here, up 40 percent from 2010. In Loreto alone, coca cultivations went up 62 percent between 2010 and 2011, the highest increase in the country. Officials in Loreto have said that they believe UN coca estimates for the Peruvian Amazon are too low. Last year the local head of Peru’s anti-narcotics agency, Dirandro, said that he thinks there are “no less than 25,000 hectares” of coca in Loreto

The expansion of coca in the Amazon is particularly surprising, as for many years it was believed that coca plants potent enough for cocaine production could only be cultivated successfully at higher elevations. But as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year, drug traffickers have found a way to do: using fertilizers to maintain the level of soil acidity needed to allow potent coca plants to thrive. 

Peru’s traditional coca producing regions are in the south: the Upper Huallaga Valley and the Apurimac and Ene River Valley, known as the VRAE. According to the UNODC estimates, these areas still have the greatest concentrations of coca in the country. Compared to the 4,450 hectares of coca that the UNODC found in the Amazon region, for example, the VRAE had nearly 20,000 hectares, or 31 percent of the country’s total coca. 

But the UNODC report also shows that coca growth is expanding outside of these traditional areas, including in the south. also mentioned were the Kosñipata Valley in Peru’s Cusco region, where coca cultivations went up 75 percent. 

The report also notes that other southern zones — Puno and Madre de Dios, along the border with Brazil and Bolivia  — are developing into major smuggling routes. 

What this suggests is that both the production sites and the trafficking sites in Peru are diversifying, with greater emphasis on cultivating coca closer to Brazil, and smuggling cocaine to Brazil and Bolivia. As an investigation by IDL-Reporteros found earlier this year, it is estimated that 70 percent of the drugs produced in the VRAE ends up in Bolivia, where it is often smuggled onwards to Brazil. According to one study, Brazil is the second largest consumer of cocaine and crack in the world. And as the numbers in the UNODC report show, coca cultivation dynamics in Peru may be evolving in order to better meet this demand.

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