Colombia to resume aerial spraying to destroy coca crop

A Colombian police plane sprays herbicides on coca plants in the suburbs of Medellin on July 23, 2003

Bogota (AFP) – Colombia will resume aerial spraying of coca plantations with the herbicide glyphosate to counter a record increase in production of the cocaine crop, President Juan Manuel Santos announced Tuesday.

Santos, who will step down at the end of his term in August, said pilot plans to resume spraying with the herbicide had received approval from the health and environment ministry.

Colombia, the world’s largest producer of cocaine, stopped aerial spraying in 2015 because of health concerns, but has come under increasing pressure from the United States to curb record coca production.

Santos, who hands over to his hardline right-wing successor Ivan Duque, said spraying would be carried out by drones at a lower altitude and with a glyphosate concentration of less than 50 percent of that previously used when spraying gave rise to cancer concerns.

In the United States, a Californian dying of cancer is suing US agrochemical giant Monsanto in the first such trial, claiming its popular herbicide Roundup — whose main ingredient is glyphosate — caused his disease.

The Colombian announcement comes a day after the US National Office of Drug Control reported that the area under coca cultivation in Colombia had grown by 11 percent to 290,000 hectares (716,000 acres), the highest level in its history.

It said cocaine production had increased by 19 percent.

The South American country’s government used aerial spraying for a 15-year period in a bid to counter drug trafficking and was the last country in the world to suspend it in favor of manual methods after a 2015 Constitutional Court ruling that it was harmful to health.