Bolivia grew less coca in 2012 - U.N

VIENNA Mon Aug 5, 2013 12:14pm EDT

An aerial view of drying coca leaves at the Carrasco National Park, Chapare region, some 600 km (373 miles) southeast of La Paz May 29, 2012. REUTERS/David Mercado

An aerial view of drying coca leaves at the Carrasco National Park, Chapare region, some 600 km (373 miles) southeast of La Paz May 29, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David Mercado

VIENNA (Reuters) - Coca cultivation in Bolivia, the world's third-biggest cocaine producer after Peru and Colombia, fell for the second consecutive year in 2012 as the government stepped up eradication efforts, official data released on Monday showed.

The price of coca leaves, which can be used to make cocaine, also declined, according to an annual survey compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Bolivian government.

Cultivation of coca bushes fell by around 7 percent to roughly 25,300 hectares, following a 12 percent drop in 2011, the survey found.

Antonino De Leo, UNODC representative in Bolivia, said government-led eradication efforts as well as dialogue with farmers and social incentives had helped curb the crop.

He said Bolivian authorities should keep reducing coca crop surpluses by enhancing alternatives for farmers and strengthening counter-narcotics enforcement programs.

The government eradicated some 11,000 hectares of coca crop last year, up 5 percent from the 2011 figure. The potential coca leaf yield stood at around 45,000 metric tons, down 6 percent from the previous year's total, the survey said.

Coca leaf prices fell 5 percent, fetching $7.40 per kg in the country's two authorized markets.

Bolivians have chewed raw coca leaves for centuries as a mild stimulant that reduces hunger and altitude sickness. Growing coca is not illegal in Bolivia but the government aims to eradicate excess crops that could be diverted to illicit markets.

President Evo Morales, himself a former coca leaf farmer, says the plant offers health benefits.

Seizures of cocaine base rose 13 percent to around 32 tons.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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