The head of Devida, the organization dedicated to reducing coca cultivation in Peru, has come up with what has long seemed obvious to the outside world: policies of coca eradication will not work unless they are accompanied by active policies to encourage agricultural development. The problems has always been how to convince peasant coca farmers to stop growing a highly robust bush that commands a high price and which can be harvested four times a year. The alternatives are seldom so attractive.
Carmen Masias, who has taken over again at Devida having relinquished this office two years ago, is working on a new strategy for the period 2017-21. “We are insisting on a strategy that focuses on the point that there is no eradication without development” she is quoted as saying. Masias claims that cultivation of coca has increased by 5,000 hectares over the last year in the valleys of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro (VRAEM), and 92% of the land eradicated has been replanted over the last two years.
Figures from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimate that the surface area planted with coca fell by 6% in 2015, arguing that it was the combination of eradication with crop substitution that explains the fall. Peru’s coca plantings peaked in 2011 when the country overtook Colombia as the world’s main source of coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine.
However, Devida’s figures call this into doubt, since the VRAEM is by far the largest area of coca cultivation. Up to now the inability of the Peruvian state to control this violent part of the country has made it particularly attractive to coca producers. Much of Peru’s cocaine is manufactured there and then shipped by air or land to Brazil for subsequent marketing.