Coca production in Colombia rose to levels not seen in nearly two decades last year, according to the United Nations.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that 866 tonnes of cocaine were produced at secret laboratories across the South American country last year, up from 649 in 2015.
UNODC said that land used for coca cultivation in Columbia has now reached levels last seen in 2001, when a major US-backed anti-narcotics campaign was in its infancy.
Some 146,000 hectares of land were used to grow coca plants in Columbia in 2016, up from 96,000 the previous year.
Analysts from the agency said the increase in production, which they described as significant, was the result of an end to the spraying of coca crops.
Bo Mathiasen, UNODC’s representative in Colombia, commented: “The report shows a complex outlook with data that indicates a worrisome situation but also a scenario that looks propitious for a sustainable solution.”
Mathiasen said he is hopeful that a new deal between the Colombian government and rebel group Farc, which controls much of the drug cultivation land in the country, could pave the way for a new coca eradication campaign.
It is hoped the deal with Farc will enable the government to persuade farmers using their land to grow coca plants to switch to legal crops.
The rebel group has agreed to relinquish control of major drug-growing regions of the country, clearing the way for the state to offer farmers subsides in exchange for ceasing to grow coca.
“The government of Colombia and local communities are building trust to reach effective and sustainable solutions,” UNODC said in a statement.
“This will require coordinated, localised and comprehensive actions that address illicit economies and organised crime, allow communities to make decisions without the pressure of illegal armed groups, and promote legal alternatives to guarantee the development of territories.”
The UN report confirmed the finding of a US government study released in March this year, which revealed that coca production rose by 18% in Columbia between 2015 and last year.
According to the US study, 188,000 hectares of land in Columbia were being used to grow coca plants when it was published.
A significant proportion of the cocaine produced in Columbia and other South American countries ends up on the streets of Europe after being smuggled by air, land and sea.
Luiz Carlos da Rocha, who managed to evade capture for nearly 30 years by using plastic surgery to alter his appearance, was jailed for more than 50 years after being detained in Mato Grosso.