Once again, there are significant discrepancies between how much coca the White House estimates is grown in Colombia, versus numbers from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
However, both sets of numbers show a clear trend: coca cultivation in Colombia appears to be on the rise.
Coca leaves are the primary ingredient in cocaine production and are primarily grown in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. In their latest reports, both the White House and UNODC noted large increases in Colombia’s 2014 estimated coca cultivation. However, the UNODC’s estimate was significantly lower than the US numbers.
This is not the first time the two organizations’ estimates have differed significantly. Their respective 2012 figures reversed the scenario, with UNODC estimates for Andean coca cultivation much higher than those of the White House.
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The UNODC uses satellite imagery as the primary basis for its coca estimates. However, this not the most reliable approach, as Colombian coca farmers often plant coca in small batches or hidden amongst other crops, in reaction to eradication campaigns.
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The White House, meanwhile, does not provide information on how its estimates are calculated, although previous reports have mentioned surveys with ex-coca farmers as a source of information.
The real take-away from these estimates is that quantifying clandestine activities like coca growing is extremely difficult, and thus assessing the success of drug policy off of these numbers is fundamentally problematic. Policy makers and analysts may find these reports helpful in terms of getting a sense of the challenges in combating drug trade. However, at the end of the day these estimates may not be the best way of truly gauging whether a particular drug policy is working or not.