Large discrepancies in coca cultivation figures cited by the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and the U.S. State Department draw attention to the limitations of these kind of statistics in accurately measuring the drug trade in the Americas.
The International Narcotics Control Board, an independent body of the UN, released its latest annual report on March 2. It quotes figures, originally released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in its June 2010 World Drug Report, on the declining levels of coca cultivation in South America. These show a 16 percent decrease in the area under coca cultivation in Colombia in 2009, down to 68,000 hectares, and increases in Peru and Bolivia of 7 percent and 1 percent, to 59,900 hectares and 30,900 hectares respectively.
Meanwhile the State Department’s 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) report, released the following day, said that, according to U.S. government statistics, the area under coca cultivation in Colombia was down 3 percent to 116,000 hectares in 2009, while Peru had an estimated 40,000 hectares and Bolivia 35,000 hectares. The State Department noted the discrepancy with UN figures, which it attributed to differing measurement methodologies.
These variations in estimates, huge in the case of Colombia, demonstrate not only the difficulties in obtaining accurate figures on coca cultivation, but also the limitations of such statistics in accurately representing the state of the drug trade.
The area under coca cultivation, for example, may not give a good indication of how much coca is yielded, or of how much cocaine is eventually produced. The UNODC comments in its 2010 World Drug Report on differing productivity levels leading to varying yield rates in different countries – although Colombia had some 13 percent more land under coca cultivation than Peru in 2009, its potential production of dry coca leaf, according to the report, was only 103,100 compared to Peru’s 119,000. The body notes the “uncertainty” in each stage of its production calculations, and the difficulties in getting good estimates of cultivation “since access to the ground in coca growing regions is often difficult and dangerous.”
Despite the varying figures, the UN and the State Department agree on a broad trend in the region, which is that cocaine production is falling in Colombia and rising in Peru and Bolivia. This is backed by InSight’s tracking of mounting evidence that drug traffickers, squeezed out of their old territory by increased anti-drug efforts in Colombia through the “balloon effect,” are crossing into other countries in the region to establish alternative production and transit points. Examples include the reported movement of former members of the Colombian Norte Del Valle Cartel to Bolivia. Taking advantage of networks in Argentina, former cartel members allegedly took part in transporting more than 900 kilos of cocaine to Europe in an Argentine aircraft.
Mexican drug cartels are also allegedly expanding links with Peru, forming networks with factions of Peru’s Shining Path, which transport cocaine out of the Peruvian highlands to the Pacific where they are bought by cartels for shipment. The Sinaloa Cartel has also reportedly established two cells along the Ecuador-Peru border. One cell buys and processes the coca, while the second ships the product from Peru.