Eradication & Environmental

Projects and Safeguards

Aerial Eradication ($72M)

The most significant Colombian National Police (CNP) Antinarcotics Directorate (DIRAN) project is the aerial eradication program, the most ambitious such program in the world. The goals are to reduce coca harvests and cultivation, and, in coordination with the GOC’s manual eradication efforts, to deter replanting. The spray program adheres to all Colombian and U.S. environmental laws and applies a dose of glyphosate to coca that is well within the manufacturer’s recommendations for non-agricultural use.

  • Cornerstone of the INL Program
  • Sprayed over 153,000 hectares in 2007
  • Prevents 160 metric tons of cocaine from reaching the U.S. annually

INL is working with DIRAN to enable Colombia to assume all responsibilities of the eradication program within the next few years. A goal has been set to phase out the U.S. contractor that provides support for air assets and spray operations. INL advisors train DIRAN managers in aviation tactics, maintenance, logistics, communications, and managerial skills.

The aerial eradication program has minimal impact on environment and licit crops in Colombia.  The herbicide used in the aerial eradication program is glyphosate, one of the most widely used agricultural chemicals in the world. It is commercially available under many different brands in Colombia and worldwide. The aerial eradication program uses 15% of the total amount of glyphosate used in Colombia for agricultural purposes each year. The remaining is used mostly in the production of sugar cane, African palm, banana plantations, cattle ranching pastures and other crops. Glyphosate has been extensively tested over 30 years and widely used in Colombia, in the United States, and in other 100 countries around the globe for a variety of agricultural purposes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved glyphosate for general use in 1974 and re-certified it in September, 1993. A recent comprehensive review of studies on glyphosate concluded there is no indication of any human health concern. The study,
Summary of Human Risk Assessment and Safety Evaluation on Glyphosate and Roundup Herbicide, was authored by Gary M. Williams, Robert Kroes and Ina C. Munro. The Organization of American States recently conducted by a peer-reviewed, independent scientific study that evaluated the Colombia illicit crop eradication program and its potential human health and environmental considerations, finding risks to human health and the environment to be minimal (see Environmental Safeguards, below).

Manual Eradication ($10M)

  • Coordinated with aerial spraying in 2008 to address replanting, the principle challenge to all eradication efforts.
  • GOC plans to greatly expand its manual eradication efforts in 2008; has set a goal of 100,000 hectares and is more than doubling the number of Mobile Eradication Groups (GME) to 250.
  • More dangerous and costlier in inaccessible areas than aerial eradication.

INL supports the Government of Colombia’s manual eradication programs, including the Mobile Eradication Groups (GMEs) which began in 2005. The Government of Colombia reported the manual eradication of 66,385 hectares of coca (an increase of 58% since 2006) and 375 hectares of poppy (a decrease of 78% since 2006) in 2007. In reaching these impressive figures, inl aviation support was increasingly called upon for reconnaissance and resupply missions.  In 2008, it worked closely with the CNP, Accion Social, and the Army to provide the support necessary to help them achieve their ambitious goals.

Environmental Safeguards

The illicit crop eradication program follows strict environmental safeguards monitored permanently by several Colombian government agencies. The spray program adheres to all Colombian government laws and regulations, including the Colombian Environmental Management Plan (EMP). The U.S. government also reviews the program on a yearly basis through a Congressional certification process. To read the most recent spray certification reports, see http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/rpt/

The Organization of American States (OAS) published a study in 2005 positively assessing the chemicals and methodologies used in the aerial spray program. The study was conducted by a team of highly qualified, independent scientific experts and prepared for the OAS Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission-CICAD. This study examined not just the possible human health and environmental effects of glyphosate, but the specific manner in which glyphosate is applied in Colombia to eradicate illicit crops, and reached the following conclusion: “based on all evidence and information presented above, the Panel concluded that the risk to humans and human health from the use of glyphosate and Cosmo-flux in the eradication of coca and poppy were minimal.” (Conclusions, 6.1, p. 90). Similarly, with respect to potential risks to the Colombian environment, the panel concluded that “the risks to the environment from the use of glyphosate and Cosmo-Flux in the eradication of coca and poppy in Colombia were small in most circumstances.” (Conclusions, 6.2, p. 90). 

The Colombian Government thoroughly investigates all claims that spraying has damaged legal crops or contributed to health problems. Since the tracking began in 2001, an interagency group has processed approximately 7,800 claims of crop damage by spray plane. Over 100 claims of accidental spraying of food crops or pastureland have been verified and the program has paid approximately $500,000 in compensation for damaged crops. Not a single claim of harm to human health as a result of the spray program has ever been confirmed.

The cultivation of illegal drugs has serious negative consequences on Colombia’s plant and animal diversity. Three hectares of forests are cleared, burned and destroyed for every one hectare of coca or poppy plants grown in Colombia. In the last ten years, 1.6 million hectares of forest have been destroyed by the spread of illegal drugs. Because the process of burning forest land to plant coca weakens the soil, growers depend on highly toxic pesticides to cultivate their illicit crops. The chemicals used in the production of cocaine also harm the environment and contaminate sources of water. In 2003 alone, narco-traffickers used 9.6 million gallons of gasoline and 460,000 liters of acid for the production of 460 metric tons of cocaine. For a short movie about how illegal drugs hurt the environment, please see the following: (link to the movie).