Weekly Report - 06 October 2011 (WR-11-40)

PERU: Paying not to grow coca

The government of President Ollanta Humala is mulling over a radical departure from conventional drug war strategies. “Coca eradication is a failed policy,” the prime minister, Salomón Lerner, said last week. Instead, he said, the government was evaluating whether to pay small farmers, or campesinos, not to grow coca.


The Humala administration excited controversy in mid August by briefly suspending coca eradication in the Alto Huallaga in order to redesign Peru’s counter-narcotics policies [WR-11-34]. Part of the redesign appears to be taking shape. Lerner said the government had a budget of NS$15m (US$5.4m) for coca eradication for the rest of the year - money which he implied would be better spent paying coca growers to start cultivating alternative crops such as cacao and coffee.

Lerner was adamant that coca eradication was futile. In the last two decades he said it had cost almost US$4.2m per hectare eradicated. He said the government was calculating how much it would cost over the next three or four years to pay coca growers not to produce coca. Lerner claimed that the US applied a similar policy regarding cotton harvesting. He said the government was planning to roll out a pilot plan to apply to some 1,000-1,500 hectares in the Apurímac and Ene river valleys (Vrae), the main centre of coca production.

Previous governments have tried alternative crop strategies but, despite a modicum of success in San Martín, they have largely foundered on the fact that nothing either grows as well or is as profitable as coca. There are also obvious moral problems with paying people not to do something that is illegal. It could easily become a bidding war, with drug gangs simply paying campesinos a bit more money to plant coca than the government is offering them not to grow it.

  • Drug-trafficking

Prime Minister Lerner, like President Humala before him, underlined the government’s absolute commitment to fighting drug-trafficking, by improving financial intelligence to investigate potential criminal activity in the banking and insurance system; destroying maceration pits; and cracking down on precursor chemicals, such as kerosene, used in the production of cocaine. He said 80 illegal petrol stations, informal pumps, in the Vrae, also selling precursor chemicals, would be closed.

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