Authorities Hail Drop in Peru Coca Cultivation, But Success Will Be Short Lived

A recent drop in coca cultivation in Peru has delighted local and international authorities, who see it as a sign of successful eradication efforts. If history is any indication, though, a drop in Peru could only mean a rise in neighboring coca producers.

The 2013 Coca Crop Monitoring Survey, presented on June 11 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Lima, revealed that the cultivation of coca in Peru had decreased for the second consecutive year. According to the figures, coca crops declined by 17.5 percent, resulting in 49,800 hectares of land used for cultivation in 2013, as opposed to the 60,400 hectares detected in 2012. Part of the successful increase in eradication figures can be attributed to the government's push into the Palcazu-Pichis-Pachitea area and the Monzon valley, where a large area of coca cultivation has historically been centered.

Flavio Mirella, UNODC Representative in Peru, praised the efforts of the local authorities that led to a 68 percent increase on the area eradicated in 2012, stating, “This is the most remarkable reduction rate achieved in the last 14 years”. Significant public investment, increasing interdiction and the consolidation of an alternative development plan, he said, have all contributed to this historical achievement.

However, as Foreign Policy magazine pointed out, these figures far from represent an overall victory for the government of Peru and UNODC officials against drug producers and traffickers. To begin with, in line with the logic of the market, declining yields has meant that the price of coca leaves has increased by 30 percent, while cocaine prices similarly jumped by nearly 32 percent in 2013. Despite this increase in price, global demand has remained relatively consistent, with the appetite in South American countries such as Argentina and Brazil --  the latter now the world's second largest consumer of cocaine -- showing no sign of diminishing.

Perhaps even more important is that this decline in Peruvian cultivation could likely only affect overall Andean cultivation of coca in the short-term. History has shown that as one of the three coca producing countries -- Peru, Bolivia and Colombia -- has been targeted by eradication efforts, cultivation will simply move to another area under less intense focus by the authorities. This trend, known as the "balloon effect," can be easily identified in the past two to three decades in the region -- Peru was the primary coca producer in the 1980s and 1990s, with this title shifting to Colombia throughout the 2000s. As eradication intensified in Peru's northern neighbor throughout that decade -- bringing a 25 percent decrease in 2012 compared to the previous year's figures -- coca cultivation simply moved back south. 

Based on recent announcements from the Peruvian government, we may not reach a point where the balloon effect even needs to take place. At the beginning of June, the country's interior minister, Walter Alban, stated that the authorities would have to reign in their eradication efforts in Peru's largest coca producing region, the VRAEM (the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys), due to the presence of Shining Path guerrillas. The government's target in this area has been slashed from 15,000 hectares to 5,000 hectares in 2014, and while they have maintained the overall eradication target of 30,000 hectares throughout the country this year, it now seems unlikely they'll reach this, as InSight Crime noted.

In light of these considerations, it would be right to view the achievements highlighted in the 2013 Coca Crop Monitoring Survey with a strong degree of cynicism. The report highlights a drop in coca cultivation in Peru, yet it fails to determine whether these new figures will have an impact on the illicit drug production elsewhere, or indeed whether they are a sustainable trend domestically. If history has taught us anything about the drug trade in South America, it's that annual gains by governments against production and trafficking have little overall impact on the dynamics of the global trade.