* Coca crops fall 12 percent as eradication stepped up
* Rising prices boost crop's appeal among farmers
* Leftist president says U.S. ignoring gov't progress
(Adds Morales comment, context on U.S. report)
VIENNA, Sept 17 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 tonnes from 55,500 tonnes.
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 criticised 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 recognised
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)