Peru has overtaken Colombia as the world’s largest coca crop cultivator, reinforcing its position as the world’s primary cocaine producer and highlighting the growing demand for the drug in Europe and regional markets.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) annual report “Peru: Cocaine Cultivation Monitoring 2012,” more than 60,000 hectares of coca crops were cultivated in Peru in 2012, compared to 48,000 hectares in neighbouring Colombia. Although coca cultivation decreased in both countries when compared to the previous year, in Peru it only dropped by 3.4 per-cent, while Colombian cultivation fell by 25 per-cent.
As in neighbouring Bolivia, Peru has a sizeable domestic demand for unprocessed coca leaves. However, according to the report, that demand could be met with less than 7,000 hectares of coca crop, suggesting that the vast majority of coca produced is destined for drug processing.
Peru’s newfound position as the number one cultivator of coca reinforces its status as the world’s primary producer of cocaine, a position it previously attained through growers’ use of coca strains that produce a higher cocaine yield. Even without these advantages, Peru would likely remain the world’s biggest cocaine supplier as interdiction rates are a fraction of those seen in Colombia.
The emergence of Peru as the world’s main supplier has been boosted by changing consumption patterns. Most Peruvian cocaine is destined for consumption in Brazil and Argentina or export to Europe — all markets that have grown substantially in recent years. In contrast, the US market has declined, but remains predominantly the domain of Colombian cocaine, which accounts for 95 per-cent of all imported product, according to US government estimates.
While cocaine production has been booming, prices have fallen to levels much lower than those seen in Peru’s rivals, to the extent that much of the cocaine that arrives in Argentina and Brazil from Bolivia now originates in Peru.
The thriving cocaine sector has inevitably attracted the interests of international organized crime groups, research in the country revealed the presence of Colombians, Mexicans and Russians. However, this has not yet led to growing violence, and Peru has yet to see the sort of criminal conflicts that still plague Colombia.
The Peruvian government has pledged to fight trafficking, announcing a hard-line anti-drug strategy in 2011. However, their efforts have yielded questionable results. Though authorities eradicated 12,000 hectares in the first half of 2013, it is unclear whether such efforts actually decrease the total cultivation area or if growers simply move elsewhere.