Volunteer Translation: Glyphosate returns, but now from drones. What does this change in policy mean?

Glyphosate returns, but now from drones. What does this change in policy mean?

La Semana (Colombia), June 27, 2018

Translated by Deryn Collins, CSN Volunteer, August 29, 2018


Although aerial spraying as a method to eradicate illicit coca cultivation was ceased following a ruling by the Constitutional Court [in 2015] that warned of the [health risks for campesino coca growers], a decision by the National Council of Narcotic Drugs [Consejo Nacional de Estupefacientes, CNE] has begun aerial spraying again, through a method that it assures will have less harmful effects.

In the midst of a debate about the unusual increase in hectares of illicit crops in the country, the National Council of Narcotic Drugs approved allowing military and police forces to eradicate using aerial spraying, not with helicopters, but with drones.

This measure was approved just as the report from the Office of the National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) of the U.S. came out, which shows a record growth in coca cultivation in Colombia. In agreement with the report, the number of hectares of coca in the country increased by 11 percent in 2017, reaching 209,000. Additionally, the capacity for production of cocaine in the country grew by 19 percent. The [ONDCP] recognized that the [Colombian] government has made a big effort and in 2017 achieved 70,000 hectares of coca eradicated, but it was clear that better results were expected.

Although President Santos rejected the idea that Colombia was to blame for the increase, and that the country’s authorities had made an enormous effort in this area, the government recognized the need to change strategy.

“We have spent 40 years, we who have fought drug trafficking the most in the entire world”, he confirmed. “Now we have a plan, we have a vision and we can be effective, thanks to peace, and we have to be very sincere, without peace it would have been impossible to initiate a structured solution”, he added.

The decision by the National Council of Narcotics is to look for more effective ways of forced eradication, while the programs of voluntary substitution are being advanced by the rural people of different regions.

The argument on which the approval by the Council is based is that it is not a method of aerial spraying per se, but that it is similar to manual eradication using tanks on the back. Drones can fly lower than helicopters, which guarantees, according to the [National] Police, the product falling vertically and more precisely over the crop.

The authorities in charge must first conduct a study to establish how vulnerable the drones would be in high-risk areas and create a flight plan [such] that, although the drones can be controlled by a pilot, they would function automatically.

In effect, the Constitutional Court banned the use of glyphosate through aerial spraying [via manned aircraft], which was dangerous to health and the environment. The theory of the Council of Narcotics is that by using drones, this type of risk would not occur, and that [using drones] does not go against the Court ruling.

“There will not be the drift that happens with aerial spraying [via manned aircraft], when the wind blows the glyphosate to other areas, which was very damaging”, President Santos said. According to [Santos’] conversations with the CNE, the drones will use less of the chemical and will make eradication more effective [than with aerial spraying of glyphosate via manned aircraft]. Also, he assured that the country has not gone back to aerial spraying nor started using glyphosate again [via manned aircraft]. According to [Santos], since the suspension of aerial spraying [via manned aircraft], [glyphosate] has been used in small quantities.

However, there are sectors that oppose the decision. The Governor of Nariño [via Twitter] affirms that going back to this method ignores the efforts that have been made to advance voluntary substitution.

Camilo Romero


June 26, 2018

I preferred that President @JuanManSantos who started the global debate in the failed fight against drugs, saying that we were on a stationary bike as we were not advancing, to the Santos of today who has gotten back on the same bike which did not get results.

Camilo Romero


June 26, 2018

They make decisions from the desk without caring about the territory. I state it clearly: any anti-drug policy that does not include the thousands of families that have no opportunities today will be doomed to failure. You cannot fumigate people and they will plant again.

The process starts today with at least 10 drones distributed in [the departments of] Putumayo, Meta, Caquetá, Guaviare, and Nariño. It is hoped that with the work, which promises to be less costly and more effective, three hectares of crops a day [can] be eradicated. Each one of these drones, added to other strategies such as [eradication via] Caterpillar tractors, will cost around 30 million pesos (US $9,803.75).

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