Global cocaine production has reached record levels as demand rebounds following Covid lockdowns, a new report has found.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime said coca cultivation rose by 35% between 2020 and 2021 to record levels.
Findings suggest new hubs for trafficking have emerged in West and Central Africa.
The report also said traffickers were using international postal services more often to get drugs to consumers.
“Globally, the use of parcel and courier services increased significantly during the Covid-related lockdown due to restrictions on passenger flights,” the Global Report on Cocaine report said.
It noted a rise in West African countries in the use of “well established, globally operating postal services as well as smaller shopping companies” used to smuggle quantities of cocaine to Europe and beyond.
Overall, the the report found Europe and North America are the largest markets for cocaine, followed by South and Central America and the Caribbean.
While the report said the markets in Africa and Asia were “still limited”, the UN’s Ghada Waly said the potential for the market to expand there was a dangerous reality.
Production increase was the result of an expansion in the cultivation of coca bush, as well as improvements in converting coca into powdered cocaine, the report found.
It added the outbreak of Covid-19 had a “disruptive” effect on drug markets as international travel was severely curtailed.
Demand for cocaine slumped as nightclubs and bars were shut during the pandemic lockdowns.
“However, the most recent data suggests this slump has had little impact on longer-term trends,” the report says. “The global supply of cocaine is at record levels.”
In the UK, the report says there has been a “significant increase” in seizures of cocaine in the “fast parcel and postal modes”.
Interceptions by law enforcement have also been on the rise – at a higher speed than production, the report outlines.
Other key findings include:
- Colombia still dominates trafficking routes although paths to Europe have evolved
- Consumption in Australia peaked in the middle of 2020, dropped by 50% the following year and picked up “moderately” in the last few months of 2021
- Mexican and Balkan criminal groups have moved closer to the centre of production to gain access to supplies
- The use of crack cocaine is on the upward trend in several western European countries including the UK, Belgium, France and Spain
- In Ukraine, the market had been expanding, but since Russia’s invasion last February the demand has been disrupted drastically
Reacting to the report, UN’s chief of research and trend Angela Me said the supply of cocaine has risen in South America as criminal groups have taken control of areas previously run by Colombia’s largest rebel group – Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).
She said this has led to competition among groups – including some foreign groups – which has increased the production.