June 19, 2009 / 3:16 PM / 11 years ago

U.N. reports big drop in Colombia cocaine production

VIENNA (Reuters) - Colombia’s cocaine production fell to its lowest in a decade last year as demand declined and crackdowns reaped rewards, but rose in Bolivia and Peru, the U.N. anti-crime agency said on Friday.

Cocaine production in Colombia, the world’s No. 1 supplier, fell by 28 percent last year according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), but rose 4 by percent and 9 percent in Peru and Bolivia respectively.

“The increases for Bolivia and Peru show a trend in the wrong direction,” UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said in a statement. The two countries together produced about as much cocaine as Colombia in 2008.

“Peru must guard against a return to the days when terrorists and insurgents, like the (guerrilla group) Shining Path, profited from drugs and crime,” Costa said.

Colombia produced less as demand from the world’s main cocaine markets fell, but smaller suppliers Bolivia and Peru made more as production shifted slightly away from the biggest producer, according to UNODC findings.

“In terms of ... production, the 2008 results are the lowest in Colombia in a decade,” the UNODC said in a statement.

Drug trafficking was being “seriously disrupted” thanks to action by local officials, it said. According to the agency, 200 tons of cocaine was seized in 2008, a 57 percent increase compared with 2007.

The value of coca leaf, the raw ingredient of cocaine, is falling in Colombia, making it less attractive for farmers, it said. Cocaine supply is shrinking and the drug is getting harder to transport, boosting prices and lowering purity.

“This may also explain why cartels are becoming so violent,” Costa said. Cocaine demand is also falling in the main North American markets.

Overall coca cultivation declined in Colombia last year, down 18 percent compared with 2007. Besides being made into cocaine, the leaf is also used as a remedy for altitude sickness and to stave off hunger.

Championed by Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca farmer, the leaf is also chewed and used in teas, in cooking and for religious ceremonies.

Costa said the UNODC was working with farmers to ensure the plant was not being turned into cocaine, which was used at least once by between 15.5 million and 20.5 million people in 2007, according to UNODC estimates.

“Much more development assistance is needed throughout the Andean countries, particularly in poor regions like the Yungas of Bolivia, where coca is the only source of income,” he said.

The U.N.’s annual World Drug Report is published next week.

Editing by Andrew Dobbie

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