BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — Colombian peasants devoted about 27% more land to growing coca last year, the United Nations reported Wednesday, calling the increase a surprise given the intense efforts to eradicate cocaine's raw ingredient.
Estimated cocaine production, however, increased only slightly in Colombia and other Andean nations as cultivation shifted to smaller, less productive plots in more remote locations. About 1,096 tons was produced in 2007, compared with 1,085 tons the year before, according to the U.N.
The net increase in coca acreage came despite record U.S.-backed eradication efforts that disrupted the growing cycle, said national Police Chief Gen. Oscar Naranjo.
"These young crops, the new ones, are less productive, both in the number of leaves and in terms of the potency of the leaf," Naranjo said, and it's more difficult for growers in remote areas to get the chemicals to process the leaves.
Still, coca farmers are aggressively clearing forest land for crops and laboratories, and the plants will eventually produce much more coca if eradication efforts don't keep up.
"The increase in coca cultivation in Colombia is a surprise and shock: a surprise because it comes at a time when the Colombian government is trying so hard to eradicate coca; a shock because of the magnitude of cultivation," said Antonio Maria Costa, director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
In all, 382 square miles of coca cultivation was found in Colombia last year, up from 301 square miles in 2006.