BOGOTA/VIENNA Aug 8 Coca planting in Colombia
fell by a quarter last year as the government bolstered efforts
to stop the crop being turned into cocaine and crime gangs
shifted to other ways of funding their operations, the United
Nations said on Thursday.
Coca, the raw material for cocaine production, covered
48,000 hectares of Colombia in 2012, down 25 percent from the
year before, according to the annual report by the United
Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The figure is the
lowest since records started in 2001.
One of the world's top cocaine producers, Colombia has been
battling drug-funded rebels and criminal gangs for decades. Even
as a U.S.-backed military offensive has helped improve security,
coca output and drug trafficking continues to help finance a
50-year conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people.
"We have noticed that terrorists are looking for other
sources of funding, but drug trafficking continues to fund their
operations," Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon told reporters.
Insurgent groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia and the National Liberation Army, as well as criminal
bands, have moved into illegal mining for gold as an easier way
to pay for their operations, Bo Mathiasen, the UNODC
representative in Colombia, told Reuters.
Coca leaf yield per hectare also declined last year. The
United Nations estimates that potential cocaine production in
2012 was 309 tons, down 10 percent from 345 tons in 2011.
The drop in cultivation followed an increase of 3 percent
during 2011. This year's number is far below Colombia's 2001
peak, when coca fields occupied more than 140,000 hectares.
The government's crackdown on the drugs trade and a steady
increase in metals prices in recent years, including a fivefold
jump in gold prices over the last decade, has led criminal gangs
to seek easier profit in the illegal extraction of minerals such
as gold, coltan and tungsten.
Cocaine is no longer a sufficient source of funding for
8,000-member FARC because distribution - the most lucrative side
of the cocaine market - is now largely controlled by Mexican
cartels, said Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington Office
on Latin America, a U.S. non-governmental organization.
He said it was easier for rebel bands and criminal gangs to
operate an illegal mine than a coca field.
"There is no risk of fumigation and the United States is not
complaining, so the government doesn't feel pressure to crack
down on unlicensed mines," Isacson said.
The U.N. report estimated the farm-gate value of coca leaf
and its derivatives, such as coca paste and cocaine base, at
$370 million in 2012 - down from $422 million in 2011. It said
it amounted to just 0.2 percent of Colombia's economic output.
While prices were mostly stable for cocaine base and paste,
the coca leaf yield per hectare fell, and 3 percent fewer
households were linked to coca production, the report said.
"With the average gross income of a farmer selling coca leaf
estimated at $1,220 per year, coca production does not fetch the
same lucrative rewards as in the past," the report said.
(Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Brian
Ellsworth and Doina Chiacu)