Colombia creating more cocaine than ever before, UN figures present

About 866 tonnes of cocaine were are available in 2016, new report indicates, but government says new scheme will lead to reduction in narcotic production

Colombia has spent years trying to shake off its reputation as the cocaine capital of the world, but the country is making more of the narcotic than ever before, according to new figures from the United Nations.

An estimated 866 tonnes of cocaine were produced at clandestine laboratory across the country in 2016, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime( UNODC ). In 2015, the estimate was 649.

In words of the area planted with coca, the raw material used for cocaine, Colombia is back at the same levels as in 2001, when a huge US-backed anti-narcotics effort known as Plan Colombia was just getting under way. Coca crops encompassed 146,000 hectares in 2016, up 52% from 96,000 in 2015. Higher yields from matured plants entail more cocaine can be produced per hectare planted.

The results of the study demonstrate a complex vistum, said Bo Mathiasen, the UNODCs representative in Colombia.

Jos ngel Mendoza, the head of Colombias counter-narcotics police, said Colombia faced a difficult historic moment, but stressed that the figures reflected the state of the country on 31 December 2016.

Since then, the government has put in place an ambitious plan to eradicate 100,000 hectares of coca by the years aim. Half of that quantity is to be forcibly eradicated, and the other half removed through crop substitution contracts with coca farmers.

The substitution program is part of a peace deal with Farc rebels, who renounced drug trafficking as one of the purposes of their demobilization bargain. During much of the groups 53 years as an armed rebellion, it financed its fight through the narcotic trade.

Former combatants have committed to work with the government to convince farmers to replace coca crops with another way to make a living.

The history of medication harvests is divided in two: before and after the beginning of the post-conflict period, said Enrique Gil Botero, the justice minister.

Already 40% of the goal of forced eradication has been met, and 86,000 families who account for just as much as 76,000 hectares of coca have signed on to harvest substitution programs in exchange for subsidies of about $11,000 per farmer over the course of two years, according to the government.

Having the Farc on the side of substitution and not on the other side makes a difference, said Rodrigo Pardo, who heads the government agency in charge of implementing the peace agreement.

But the deal on harvest substitution with the Farc, announced before the final peace deal was finalise last year, also provided a perverse incentive for farmers to grow coca, knowing they would subsequently be awarded subsidies. Cocaine production began increasing in 2013, rising steadily every year since. In 2014 the Colombian government aimed aerial fumigations in over health concerns.

A significant rise in the number of hectares planted with coca, the raw material used in cocaine, had already been reported by the White House, which utilizes its own measurements. While calculating 180,000 hectares of coca, the US figured the country rendered about 700 tonnes of the medication in 2016.

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