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Colombia's coca cultivation is up by 50%: UN

© AFP/File | A coca field is seen in Pueblo Nuevo, in the municipality of Briceno, Antioquia Department, Colombia, on May 15, 2017

BOGOTA (AFP) - 

The area devoted to coca cultivation in Colombia grew by more than half last year, with cocaine production up by a third, the UN said Friday in an annual report on the subject.

The total coca-growing area rose from 96,000 hectares in 2015 to 146,000 hectares in 2016 (from 237,000 acres to 361,000 acres), a 52 percent year-to-year rise, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Bo Mathiasen, told reporters.

Coca is the key ingredient in cocaine.

Cocaine production meanwhile rose from 646 metric tons in 2015 to 866 metric tons in 2016, a 34 percent rise, he said.

But while the increases were significant, Mathiasen said, he held out hope for improvement now that Colombia has signed a peace agreement with the biggest rebel group in the country, which controls much of the drug-producing land.

The production increases came in traditional coca-producing regions -- and did not reflect expansion into new areas -- said Leonardo Correa, coordinator of the UN's Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System, known as SIMCI.

The UN Security Council recently decided unanimously to create a new mission for Colombia to help the former rebels of FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, rejoin society as a step to securing the peace process.

For decades FARC guerrillas controlled many of the country's key coca-growing zones.

Under the peace deal, farmers will receive subsidies to switch from coca to other crops.

Colombia is the leading coca producer in Latin America, followed by Peru and Bolivia, according to the UN report.

A UN mission currently in the country has begun monitoring the destruction of weaponry surrendered by FARC militants starting June 27 as part of the historic peace accord.

© 2017 AFP