Coca production in Bolivia dropped nine percent in 2013, according to the latest United Nations figures, bringing the number of hectares cultivated ever closer to the government set legal quota even as questions remain over efforts to tackle trafficking.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report (pdf), 23,000 hectares of coca were cultivated in Bolivia last year, the lowest quantity in 12 years (see graph below).
The biggest drop came in the region north of La Paz, where cultivation dropped 28 percent to just 230 hectares. In the main coca growing region, Yungas de La Paz, production fell seven percent to 15,700 hectares.
Eradication also increased, with a total of 11,407 hectares eradicated/rationalized — 3 percent more than the previous year.
However, the report also showed a fall in seizures, with coca leaf seizures dropping 36 percent from over seven tons in 2012 to under five tons in 2013; cocaine base seizures falling 37 percent from 32 tons to 20; and powder cocaine seizures falling 62 percent from 4 tons to just 1.5.
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The government of President Evo Morales has taken a different tack to previous administrations, working with the coca growers federations as partners in the fight against drug trafficking rather than treating them as criminals.
The government can claim significant success for these tactics, with 2013 part of a trend in declining cultivation since 2011. This year’s reduction brings production to within a few thousand hectares of the 20,000 allowed under Bolivian law — a target set by President Evo Morales for this year, according to La Razon.
However, a comprehensive study on Bolivia’s coca leaf requirements for traditional use concluded only 14,000 hectares are needed per year, so even if Bolivia meets this target questions remain over how Bolivia can ensure the extra 6,000 hectares is not diverted into cocaine production. According to the UNODC, Bolivia vetoed a proposal to study Bolivia’s potential production of cocaine, arguing it would be against the country’s laws.
The fall in cocaine seizures (see graph right) meanwhile, highlights one of the weaker aspects of Bolivia’s go-it-alone pro-coca policy.
Since Bolivia ended cooperation with US anti-narcotics agencies, it has lacked capacity to carry out interdiction operations, aiming instead to tackle drug trafficking at the source. However, Bolivia is not only a producer, it is also an increasingly popular transit nation for Peruvian cocaine, something which the government has so far proven incapable of tackling.