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Colombia coca farming is up, U.N. says

June 19, 2008 |  9:51 am

As the U.S. Congress puts the Colombia free trade agreement on the back burner for next year, another form of trade in the country appears to be booming: Coca. 

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 were produced in 2007, compared with 1,085 tons the year before, according to the U.N.

Here's an update from Nicole Gaouette of the Times' Washington, D.C. bureau, who spoke with the U.S. State Dept. about the new findings:

"It sounds to me and seems to me like this is just another indication that while we've made tremendous progress working with Colombia and other countries in fighting against the drug trade and drug trafficking, that, unfortunately, there still is a lot of work to do," said Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman. "That's why we are committed to continuing to work with President Uribe and his government, as well as others in the region, to continue this effort."

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City and Nicole Gaouette in Washington, D.C.