Peru overtakes Colombia as world's top coca leaf grower


Members of the Ashaninka ethnic group harvest coca leaves to be sold to the highest bidder, in Pichari Peru.


Hugo Ned

Peru has overtaken Colombia as the world's top grower of the coca leaf, the main ingredient in cocaine.

According to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, coca plantations covered 60,400 hectares (150,000 acres) of Peru last year, down from 62,500 (155,000 acres) the year before.

Even with the decrease, it still replaced Colombia in the top spot, since land used for coca cultivation there dropped to 48,000 hectares (118,000 acres).

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"There has been an important turning point with a 3.4 percent reduction, coming after seven years of continuing increases in those crops," said Flavio Mirella, the UN office's representative in Peru.

The largest areas cultivating the leaf are Cusco, Ayacucho, in the southern Andes, and Huanuco, in central Peru.

"The government eradicated over 14,230 hectares of coca crop in Alto Huallaga and Aguaytia. These areas, together with the Apurimac-Ene and Mantaro River Valley (known as VRAEM), are strongly associated with drug trafficking and terrorism," said the UNDOC report.

"Nevertheless, the arrest of Artemio [a key leader of the left-wing rebel group Shining Path] has facilitated the involvement of farming communities in alternative development programmes."

Mirella also noted that Peru produced enough coca leaf last year — 128,000 tons — to fill 6,000 shipping containers, which would measure 18 miles if laid end to end.

Peru produces an estimated 230 tons of cocaine each year, although the coca leaf is also used for the legal production of teas and medications.