Illegal cocaine plantations in Colombia reached record levels last year following a 17 per cent increase from 2016 to around 423,000 acres (171,000 hectares), the United Nations said on Wednesday.
The UN Office on Crime and Drugs (UNODC) said that translated to a potential 31 per cent increase in cocaine production from last year to almost 1,400 tons.
“I want to express my deep concern about the amount of money that is moving around illicit drugs,” said the UNODC representative to Colombia, Bo Mathiasen.
Colombia remains way ahead of the rest of the world in terms of illegal coca plantations, while it is also the top producer of cocaine, much of it destined for the United States, the biggest consumer of the white powder.
The worst affected region is Narino on the border with Ecuador. On its own, Narino has more farmland dedicated to coca plantations than Peru, the country with the second largest area of such fields with almost 110,000 acres.
Riddled with dissident FARC guerrillas as well as drug trafficking gangs, Narino it one of the country’s most dangerous regions.
The UNODC report said that the “potential production of cocaine has a value of $2.7 billion in the local market” and warned that those proceeds “could undermine peacebuilding efforts, weaken the culture of lawfulness, strengthen armed groups and delegitimize democratic institutions through corruption and illicit financial flows.”
Colombia’s border regions with Ecuador to the southwest and Venezuela to the east and northeast are the principle theatres of armed conflict between government forces and a combination of drug gangs and Marxist rebels.
Although cocaine production is increasing, so too are efforts to halt it.
Cocaine seizures increased by 20 per cent while 4,820 laboratories were destroyed, up 12 per cent.