Coca, used in production of cocaine is down by 25 percent in Colombia
Colombia is one the world's top three cocaine producers
In Colombia, the production of coca, which is the raw ingredient needed for cocaine has fallen by 25 percent. A United Nations report says that the land under coca cultivation is now about a third of what it was in 2001.
The fall in coca production in Colombia suggests that illegal groups which have financed themselves through drug trafficking may increasingly be moving into illegal gold and emerald mining.
The annual report by the U.N.'s Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System says that the land planted with coca bushes has dropped from 64,000 hectares in 2011 to 48,000 hectares in 2012, which is the lowest figure since monitoring started in Colombia more than a decade ago.
The fall in coca production in Colombia suggests that illegal groups which have financed themselves through drug trafficking may increasingly be moving into illegal gold and emerald mining. Analysts say that these activities have been increasing in Colombia.
Groups are taking advantage of the fact that, unlike coca or cocaine, gold and emeralds are legal to transport and sell.
General Luis Alberto Perez, the head of Colombia's counter-narcotics police, has told TV journalists that the U.N. figures showed that their strategy to focus on the worst-affected areas had worked.
Perez says that even though the police had eradicated less coca than in previous years, the force had increased its presence in those regions where most of the coca was grown, preventing people from planting coca bushes in the first place. Perez also praised the government's social programs, which aim to convince farmers to switch from growing coca to legal crops.
Using satellite imagery to map areas planted with coca, the UNODC report says that there was an increase in coca plantations in three provinces: Norte de Santander, Choco and Caqueta. Police activity in these three provinces was hampered by left-wing Farc rebels and drug gangs.
Perez says an increased use of landmines by these groups means eradication workers cannot pull out the plants by hand without the risk of stepping on a mine.
Perez says a ban on aerial eradication, which uses planes to spray herbicides on coca plants in a six-mile wide strip next to the border, has made this area a magnet for drug growers.
Colombia agreed to the exclusion zone after Ecuador brought a complaint against its neighbor at the International Court of Justice in 2008 saying its territory was being poisoned by the spraying.
Coca growing has also decreased in Bolivia, according to the U.N.
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