U.N. says Bolivia grew less coca in 2011

VIENNA Mon Sep 17, 2012 5:22pm EDT

VIENNA (Reuters) - Coca cultivation in Bolivia, the world's third-biggest cocaine producer after Peru and Colombia, fell last year as the government stepped up eradication efforts, official data released on Monday showed.

But higher prices for the coca leaves used to make cocaine meant the crop remained attractive for farmers, according to an annual survey compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Bolivian government.

The cultivation of coca bushes, which yield the leaves, declined around 12 percent to some 27,200 hectares (67,184 acres), ending years of rising crop cultivation, the 2011 coca monitoring survey found.

Cesar Guedes, the UNODC representative in Bolivia, thanked the government for its drug control efforts in a statement. He noted that coca crop eradication rose by more than a quarter to 10,500 hectares (25,935 acres) while total coca leaf yield was reduced to around 48,100 metric tonnes (53,021 tons) from 55,500 tonnes (61,178 tons).

Coca leaf prices rose by 31 percent in government-approved markets and by an estimated 16 percent in illegal markets, it found. Bolivian farmers are allowed to grow a limited amount of coca for traditional uses such as tea-making and chewing.

"Higher prices are making coca more attractive but farmers need viable alternatives if we are to curb illicit crop-growing over the long term," Guedes said.

The market value of coca leaf rose to $353 million in 2011 from $310 million in 2010, the survey found, or 1.5 percent of Bolivia's gross domestic product.

The findings of the report were published three days after Washington kept Bolivia on a list of countries that are deemed to be making insufficient progress fighting the drug trade.

Leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales is a former coca leaf farmer and a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy.

He criticized Washington's decision to keep Bolivia on the drugs blacklist, which also includes Myanmar and Venezuela.

"The effort that the government is making isn't recognized by the government of the United States," Morales said. "These are political decisions made against governments that are anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist."

The U.S. memorandum reported a similar decline in coca crops last year, but it said efforts to crack down on the cocaine trade had become less effective since Morales expelled U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents in 2008 after accusing them of plotting with his rightist enemies.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Additional reporting by Carlos Quiroga in La Paz; Editing by Eric Beech)

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