Colombia's cocaine production fell by nearly 25% in 2011 from the previous year, and was down by more than 70% since 2001, according to the White House. A report released this week by the Office of National Drug Control Policy suggests that the Andean country once known as the largest producer of cocaine has scored a remarkable victory. That's great news, if indeed the latest estimates are accurate.
But the report is at odds with a United Nations survey released last week that concluded that Colombia's cocaine production remains virtually unchanged, dropping by a mere 1% since 2010. That's a significant and troubling discrepancy. The United States and the U.N. are the only two sources for cocaine production estimates.
Whose numbers are accurate? U.S. officials suggest the conflicting estimates reflect different reporting techniques. While both use satellite imagery as well as on-the-ground monitoring and seizures of cocaine, the U.S. says it uses higher resolution satellite images than the U.N. and therefore has a more accurate assessment of cocaine production. American officials also say the U.N. is not taking into account the fact that new coca crops are yielding less of the raw material for cocaine. On the other hand, questions have been raised about the fact that the U.S. is estimating that 83,000 hectares were used to cultivate coca in 2011, far more than the United Nation's estimate of 64,000 hectares. Yet the U.S. report finds that more land is yielding less cocaine.