By Alicia Liliana Méndez, October 3, 2021


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

A Police study showed that there are now 14 adaptations of the three varieties of coca plants.

Crisp, Giant, Tingo Birdie, Rose Apple, White Peruvian are some of the names of five of the 14 coca plant adaptations detected by Colombian authorities that have surged after technical manipulations carried out by experts who work for the drug traffickers to augment their productivity.

The intervention at the hand of man in the structure of the coca plant has been so significant that there are now 14 adaptations of the three plant varieties that existed in this country a few decades ago. Some of them are even growing and being harvested in soils and atmospheric conditions where they wouldn’t have survived before.

With those manipulations, the drug traffickers have been able to guarantee that even though they plant fewer coca plants, they will produce more cocaine. And the Integrated System made that clear in a report for the Monitoring of Illegal Crops (Simci) by the United Nations. The report points out that 2020 was the third year in a row in which the areas planted in coca were reduced in size, passing from 154,000 hectares in 2019 to 143,000 in 2020.

But in spite of the 7% reduction in coca plantings, the Monitoring agency confirmed what they had noticed in previous measurements, namely, that the potential for cocaine production continues to increase. The most recent measurement shows that it passed from 1,137 metric tons in 2019 to 1,228 metric tons last year. That leaves Colombia once more as the highest producer of cocaine in the world.

Specifically, in the struggle against the scourge of drugs that runs free in this country, The International Center for Strategic Studies against the Drug Traffic, in the National Police Antinarcotics Section, promoted an investigation led by Colonel José James Roa Castañeda for two years, and the results were obtained by EL TIEMPO.

The official told this paper that the study grew out of a need to identify the “possible ‘domestications’ (adaptations) that the drug traffickers were making, so as to get a better adaptation of the coca plants to the different climatic conditions in Colombia.”

According to Colonel Roa, it showed that they are maintaining the same varieties of coca plant that have always been planted in this country. These are the Coca variety, the Novogranatense variety, and the Ipadu Plowman variety.

“What we found is that there are some adaptations of those three varieties that are being made directly by the people that are growing the coca,” he stressed. That increase in production also does greater damage to nature in the country, because it means an increase in the chemical ingredients that the growers use in processing the drug.

The study was commenced in August of 2019, and it brought to light some examples of the kinds of plants that were detected. The samples were taken in seeds or stolons to the experimental farm located in the Cenop, a Police research center located in San Luis in Tolima.

There the experts followed up on each one of the adaptations that have been recognized so far, and thus were able to verify which variety corresponds to every coca plant or bush.

For example, the Erythroxylum Novogranatense, whose common name is the Crisp Coca, reaches a height of between 2 and 2.5 meters and is adaptable to all of the climates. The giant species reaches 3.5-4 meters, nearly double that of the other adaptations, and thus guarantees a higher production of leaves.

They also discovered that the Red Bolivian is resistant to drought; the White Bolivian, on the contrary, requires a considerable amount of irrigation (water), but it has a high content of the alkaloid. The Rose Peach doesn’t have a lot of alkaloid, but it has a lot of leaves.

The so-called Sweet Coca plant is the one used the most for the production of coca paste, with harvests at 75 days, reaching six harvests in a year. The White Peruvian, for its low alkaloid content, is the one planted least frequently. While the Red Peruvian and the Peruvian have one of the highest alkaloid contents, so they are the ones preferred for production. The Tingo María is the one most cultivated in the Pacific area and in the region of Catatumbo in Norte de Santander, because of its yield in the production of the basic coca paste.

The study made clear the investments of millions that the drug traffickers have made in improving production. “They accustomed the plant to certain conditions of precipitation (rain, humidity), temperature, sunlight, and, of course, the altitude conditions above sea level,” said Colonel Roa.

The most worrisome thing that the research brought to light is that the coca plants of today can be planted in any area of the country.

In 1994, when the Police started the program of forced eradication, they found the plants at between 500 and 1,500 meters above sea level; now they find coca plants from the first meter above sea level until 2,220 or 2,230 meters of altitude.

The increase in productivity goes at the same rate as the increase in international prices. For example, a kilo of cocaine in the United States is worth more than $33,000; in Europe, it’s worth $59,000, and in the Middle East, $73,000.

“The narcos are paying because it gives them a bush with a good concentration of leaves and thus they have a good level of alkaloid production,” said the Antinarcotics Officer. With these mutations of the coca bushes, they were able to increase the amount of coca base produced by an arroba[1] of leaves from 12 grams of coca base to 24 grams; that means the capacity of production was doubled and the harvests passed from four to five a year, which equals 25% more.

All of this information is key for the authorities to undertake new strategies for confronting the “narcocrops”. It will, for example, determine the way to move ahead with fumigations with glyphosate, once they comply with the conditions imposed by the Constitutional Court for their return in the country.

[1] Unit of weight.

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