With the newly elected president Ivan Duque in place, Colombia is now testing drones to destroy coca – the plant used in cocaine.
It’s a new episode in the fight against coca-production, where traditional methods rely on planes and can be inefficient. Often nearby crops are harmed, causing real economic problems for local farmers trying to make a legitimate living. Drones are be able to offer more precision. In contrast to planes, drones have the ability to fly really low – about two feet – above the illegal coca plants, making it easier to spray a lower concentration of herbicide. According to president Duque in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, this will “.. minimize the damage and implications for third parties.”
The herbicide used is glyphosate and has caused controversy in the past. It was used in Colombia between 2001 and 2012, causing a dramatic reduction in the production of coca plants. However, In 2012, The World Health Organization warned that glyphosate might be cancerous. This eventually led to a ban on spraying with glyphosate, noticeable in the acres of coca. WSJ reports there were 470.000 acres in 2001. In 2012, there were only 193.000. Without the ability to use herbicides on the crops, the White House now reports there are over 500.000 acres.
The usage of drones as crop-dusters also have some real downsides. WSJ reports that president Duque is aware that drone usage will lead to more ground clashes between police and the coca farmers. Because drones can only carry a small amount of glyphosate, they will need more ground-officers and operators. A spokesman representing coca farmers told WSJ that “.. if they come with forced fumigation, there will be confrontations with the police. I can promise that.”
The government has now tested ten drones, destroying “hundreds of acres of coca”, according to the Wall Street Journal.