Technology on the hunt for drugs
Colombia has had a long struggle with the production of cocaine, with it standing as the country’s largest unofficial export. At its height Colombia produced over 50% of the world’s total supply, with the infamous Pablo Escobar at the centre of a billion-dollar industry.
Pablo’s reign may have come to an end, but the industry continues to thrive in a country crippled by corruption and low income. Keen to make a real change, President Iván Duque has instigated a new technological approach to identifying produces hiding in the dense forests of Colombia.
Small aircraft loaded with herbicide are being sent to search for illegal fields of coca, along with being used to identify gangs through facial recognition and criminal profiling. Many of the coca plants have been squeezed in between essential crops and livestock producers making their elimination a difficult balancing act.
So far, the drones have successfully eliminated 90% of plants located across the Narino province with little impact on local farming. The results were achieved with 10 drones operating over a 10 square mile area using the chemical glyphosate.
Despite the early success of the drones, experts have voiced concerns with the lack of human interaction garnered through drone use. There is a risk the process could alienate farmers if crops do become damaged. Gangs who lose out to the process could also look to other forms of crime for income. Many officials have pointed out that work and infrastructure is needed if there is to be any real cultural change.
"It's a short-term solution," says Richard Lapper, associate fellow in the US and Americas programme at the Chatham House think tank. "Ultimately, there's a lot of international demand for cocaine." It’s this demand along with no alternative sources of income that fuels the appetite to produce coca in Colombia. If the government can introduce better social programs rather than just eradicating the farms the benefits locally could be significant.