Bolivia records 10% increase in coca cultivation in 2019: UN

© Agence France-Presse

Bolivian anti-narcotics police officers prepare to incinerate cocaine at La Rinconada, on the outskirts of La Paz, in December 2019 -- the country reported a 10 percent increase in coca cultivation in 2019

La Paz (AFP) - Bolivia recorded a 10 percent increase in coca cultivation in 2019 as compared to the previous year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on Wednesday.

That amounted to an increase from 23,100 hectares to 25,500 devoted to the crop, a primary ingredient in cocaine but which is also used to make tea or is chewed raw in several Andean countries.

Bolivia is the third largest producer of cocaine in the world after Colombia and Peru, according to the UNODC.

The data was compiled from satellite imagery and information collected on the ground.

One of the main coca producing areas of Bolivia is in the central Cochabamba department, a bastion of peasant support for exiled former president Evo Morales, whom the current government blamed for the increase.

"The government of Morales created policies to encourage illegal coca production," said Interior Minister Arturo Murillo.

UNODC said it has detected "the presence of coca plantations in six of the 22 nationally protected areas" in Bolivia, where the harvesting of coca is prohibited.

In Bolivia it is legal to chew coca leaves and use them to make tea or in religious Andean rituals.

Morales passed a law in 2017 that almost doubled the legal area allowed for coca cultivation from 12,000 to 22,000 hectares.

The European Union, which financed the report, expressed its "concern" that Bolivia has in recent years broken the trend since 2011 of reducing the size of its plantations.