Among the diverse portfolio of U.S.-Peru bilateral cooperation, a leading priority is combating drug trafficking and helping low-income Peruvian farmers find alternative legal crops to support their families and communities. The problem is urgent: Peru is one of the top cocaine producing countries in the world. Reducing illegal coca cultivation in Peru and replacing it with alternatives such as coffee and cacao is a key element of the Government of Peru's anti-narcotics plan. Coca eradication and alternative development are important components of the United States' ongoing commitment to support Peru in its anti-narcotics goals. This strategic bilateral partnership has had a significant impact on the ground through an eradication program supported by the Embassy Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) and alternative development programs by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Peru's mountainous Huánuco Region, a coca-growing area in the Andes, to get a birds' eye view of the challenges the people of this remote area face and how U.S.-Peru cooperation is helping to make a difference. I also had the pleasure of hosting the new head of Peru's anti-drug agency DEVIDA on the trip.
Fewer Drugs. From above the tree tops inside a U.S.-owned helicopter, flown by female Peruvian police pilots, my Peruvian counterpart and I could see countless patches of illegal coca crops neatly intermingled among the lush mountain growth. The Peruvian government takes seriously the threat of the narcotics trade, and since 2011 has intensified efforts to eradicate the drug-producing crop. Last year, the Peruvian coca eradication agency eradicated more than 10,000 hectares of illegal coca, equivalent to 71 tons of export-quality cocaine. The goal for 2012 is to eradicate 14,000 hectares and to begin eradication in new areas.
More Chocolate. Complementing eradication with alternative development programs for impacted communities is critical to long-term success. USAID/Peru's Alternative Development team is doing just that. In close cooperation with regional and local government as well as community organizations, USAID and its partners tailor assistance to each community's priorities and needs. Assistance includes planting cacao, coffee, and other cash-generating crops, increasing crop productivity, promoting access to credit for farmers, strengthening producer associations, and partnering with community leaders to support local development initiatives. One example of this success has been in Peru's San Martin Region where since 2002 more than 40,000 hectares of coffee, cacao and palm oil have been planted and more than 22,000 hectares of illegal coca were eradicated.
In Huánuco, I also toured a USAID-supported cooperative that purchases crops from former cacao and coffee from 5000 member families and creates value for these desirable agricultural products by promoting organic cacao beans, cocoa powder, and cocoa butter in national and international markets. As we toured the factory, it was easy to see that business is booming; the factory is installing state-of-the art, large scale equipment to meet increasing demand. The cooperative exemplifies the numerous benefits that alternative development brings to communities that transition from an illegal economy based on coca to a legal one based on coffee and chocolate. These benefits include increased sales, more jobs, access to credit, and a decrease in poverty for the entire area.
The Government of Peru has a successful model of eradication and alternative development supported by the U.S. Government through NAS and USAID, and we are eager to continue our work with the Peruvians to address the growing problem of illicit coca production. On my trip to Huánuco, this successful partnership was highly visible both on the ground and in the air.