Bolivia’s coca production drops of another 11% in 2014

According to the Coca Crop Monitoring Survey released by the UNODC, cocaine production in Bolivia declined by 11% in the past year, marking the fourth year in a row of steady decrease. The surface under coca cultivation in 2014 is the lowest since UNODC began its monitoring survey in 2003.

Through the use of satellite imaging and field monitoring, reductions in the two main areas of cultivation were detected. The regions of Yungas and Tropic together constitute 99% of the areas under coca cultivation in the country. Between 2013 and 2014, these two areas reduced their surface under coca cultivation by 10% and 14% respectively. This phenomenon could be mainly explained by the Government’s efforts to reduce the surplus of coca crops in areas where cultivation is permitted and to eradicate coca crops in prohibited areas.

This reduction of coca production within Bolivia’s border may be connected to the fact that, in 2007, President Evo Morales decided to end the collaboration with the U.S Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), after accusing the agency of meddling in issues of national sovereignty. Only three years after, the progress was made. Instead of the use of strong tactics focused on punishment, Morales preferred to concentrate his efforts on the research for alternative crops for farmers that would actually make them more money. According to Antonino de Leo, UNODC’s representative in Bolivia, the country has adopted a policy based on dialogue, where coca cultivation is allowed in traditional areas alongside alternative development in others.

It is notable that, after the DEA left Bolivia, the European Union stepped in. Between 2007 and 2013, the EU budgeted around 280 million euro in aid to Bolivia, with around one third of the money dedicated specifically to anti-drug efforts. Former European Commissioner for Development, Andrid Pielbags, announced the delivery of 25 million euro for a programme to incentivise the creation of alternative crops as part of a wider strategy for the fight against cocaine production, in order to support Morales’ approach.

Nonetheless, it is arguable that the “soft power” approch implemented by the EU might leave the issue of corruption among Bolivian law enforcement unaddress, a problem that, on the other hand, the DEA was strongly tackling.