Colombia eradicates record amount of coca fields last year, president says

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia, a top source of coca, the base ingredient in cocaine, eradicated more than 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of the crop last year, President Ivan Duque said on Thursday.

The Andean country has come under repeated pressure from the United States, an important destination for cocaine shipments, to reduce coca cultivation, especially as crop figures shot up in recent years.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has praised Duque’s stepped-up eradication efforts. The Colombian government set out to eradicate 80,000 hectares last year.

“From now on we will without a doubt face the challenge of re-planting, but Colombia has clear its goal to reduce by 50% the area that is planted with illegal crops by the end of 2022 or 2023,” Duque said in a televised statement, adding the 100,000-hectare figure was a record and that army manual eradication units had ripped up 94,000 hectares of the crop. “We always have to be speeding up our steps.”

More than 434 tonnes of cocaine were confiscated last year, Duque said, adding that his government has increased the number of eradication units from 23 to more than 150 during his 17 months in office.

Duque is pushing to restart aerial fumigation of coca - which is more efficient than manual eradication.

The practice was banned by the Constitutional Court in 2015 until the government could met certain safety conditions, but Duque has said a restart within the court’s parameters could be possible this year.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Lisa Shumaker