Across the Andean region, the size of the coca crop has increased 18 percent in five years while the U.S. has spent $4 billion on anti-drug programs, the Washington Post reports. With farmers turning to pesticides and modern irrigation to improve crop yields, the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia — source countries for nearly all of the global supply — hovers at 1,100 tons a year, says a U.N. report. In the lush Yungas region of western Bolivia, farmers are allowed to plant a total of nearly 30,000 acres of coca to be sold in the domestic market for tea or to be chewed to ward off hunger. Production far exceeds that threshold, and much of the surplus feeds a cocaine trade thriving in part on the new regional demand of a rising Latin American middle class.
The Andean cocaine supply exceeds the amount produced in the 1990s, when U.S. policymakers pushed anti-drug aid to the region to counter powerful Colombian cartels. This decade, the U.S. has invested nearly $8 billion in the drug war, funding manual eradication efforts in Bolivia and Peru, and an aerial herbicide-spraying program in Colombia that has covered more than 2.5 million acres since 2000. “It has been three steps forward, two steps back,” said David Murray of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy. He attributed the reported increase in coca cultivation to a change in U.N. methodology.