In the world's biggest cocaine producer, cultivation reportedly surged again in 2016

Reports suggest coca cultivation rose again in Colombia in 2016, marking a third straight year of increases.

A farmer stirs a mix of mulched coca leaves and cement with gasoline, as part of the initial process to make coca paste, in Antioquia, Colombia, January 7, 2016.

Cultivation of coca — the base ingredient of cocaine — surged 39% in Colombia in 2014, which was followed by a 42% increase the next year.

In 2016, that production saw another significant increase, rising a little over 13%, from 392,897.5 acres to about 444,800 acres, or about 695 square miles, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

The latest cultivation estimate is derived from satellite imagery gathered by the US and indicates that farmers around the country have been growing more of the plant.

"If that's accurate, it's 180,000 hectares of coca, up from 159,000 in 2015," Adam Isacson, senior associate for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, wrote on Twitter on Monday. "A 13% increase is less than I expected: it rose 42% from 2014-15."

The 2016 figure would, however, indicate more than double the acreage planted at its lowest point in 2012, when cultivation covered 301 square miles, down from 656 square miles in 2001.

On the ground in Colombia, coca cultivation has been facilitated by reduced eradication efforts and driven by producers and traffickers who see an opportunity amid the government's peace-deal talks with left-wing rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which concluded in November and is now in the process of being implemented.

Several indicators suggest demand for cocaine in the US is also up.

"There are troubling early signs that cocaine use and availability is on the rise in the United States for the first time in nearly a decade,"

"According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, there was an increase in cocaine seizures nationwide between 2014 and 2015, and the number of overdose deaths within the United States involving cocaine in 2015 was the highest since 2007," the report said.

In this instance however, it may be a matter of the product chasing the consumer.

In some parts of Colombia, where people depend on coca to get by, eradication efforts are an affront.

Colombia's faltering efforts to eliminate coca cultivation may have repercussions beyond the fields and mountains of the Colombian countryside.

Days after the State Department published its report about increased coca production in Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo reported that sources in the US were suggesting Colombia may have seen more than 200,000 hectares of production in 2016, slightly more than what The Journal reported.

The increase has created a situation that, if it does not soon improve, analysts say, "could bring a 'renarcotization' of the agenda with Washington," El Tiempo reported.

The US response this year, Isacson said, "I think it will be measured and rational."

"There will be noise, especially in Congress, but moderates who want to give Colombia a chance to implement its new counter-drug plan will win the day," he said. "Even if the Trump administration wanted to confront Colombia, it can’t because it doesn’t have officials in place yet. And with big foreign aid cuts looming, it has less resources with which to force a different strategy on Colombia."

"Next year, though, the US response could be harsher if Colombia registers another increase," he told Business Insider.

"The Trump administration will have its spots filled, and Colombia will be in the middle of a [presidential] campaign probably with a strong right-wing candidate. I’d expect a continued coca increase to harm relations in 2018, but not now."

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