Peru: authorities challenge UN findings on coca leaf boom

Peru is set to overtake Colombia as the world's top coca producer, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its World Drug Report 2010 released this week. The agency cited a 6.8% increase in areas of Peru under coca cultivation in 2009 compared with 2008—despite an overall 5% decrease from 167,000 hectares in 2008 to 158,000 hectares in 2009 across the Andean region generally. This brought Peruvian territory under coca cultivation to 59,900 hectares. There was a 16% decline in areas under coca cultivation in Colombia for the same time period, to 68,000 hectares, and an increase of 1% in Bolivia. About 55% more coca is grown in Peru now than a decade ago, the report found. In 2009, Peru produced 119,000 tons of coca, representing about 45.4% of the Andean region's production, UNODC found. Colombia produced 103,100 tons, about 39.3% of the region's coca production, and Bolivia produced 40,200 tons, or 15.3% of the total.

But Peruvian officials are questioning UNODC's findings. "There are inconsistencies," Foreign Affairs Minister José Antonio García Belaunde said through the state news agency Andina June 23. "They are not the figures that the Peruvian government has. They are also not the figures that the DEA uses. I think there is a problem with the figures that need to be adjusted."

García Belaunde also said the increase in Peru's coca production is a result of less international aid for drug enforcement. "Unfortunately, they are leaving us alone," he said. "Every time there is less international cooperation."

UNODC's own representative in Peru, Flavio Mirella, pointed out that humidity levels in coca leaves in Peru and Colombia are different due to the way they are dried. "In Colombia, the coca leaf is dried by oven and in Peru by the sun. The content of humidity from the leaf is distinct in each case, which means these parameters cannot be compared," the Lima daily El Comercio reported Mirella saying June 23. "Looking closer, we find that if the leaves from both countries are compared when dried by the sun... Colombia would maintain the top position with 149,391 tonnes."

Peru's top coca-growing regions are the Upper Huallaga Valley and the Apurímac-Ene River Valley, or VRAE. In the Upper Huallaga, of central Huánuco region, 17,497 hectares were used to produce coca in 2009. In the VRAE, where Junín, Cuzco and Ayacucho regions meet, 17,486 hectares were under coca cultivation. Both the Upper Huallaga Valley and the VRAE are the stronghold of remnant factions of the