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Drones to help tackle Colombia’s cocaine conundrum

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Colombian police are adding drones to their arsenal in their battle against the country’s resurgent cocaine producers.

Cocaine production has surged in the Latin American nation over the past five years. Much of this product makes its way into the United States and up the nostrils of party-going and drug addicted Americans.

Last year the DEA produced a report stating that 93 percent of cocaine in the US originated in Colombia. This fact is harming Colombia’s relationship with the United States and Colombian authorities are under pressure to get on top of the problem as soon as possible.

ABC News reports that the anti-narcotics branch of the police have enlisted a local UAV company to trial drones in a special role as part of the country’s drug enforcement efforts.

What role will drones play?

Herbicide spraying drones, similar to the one pictured, are expected to put a significant dent in Colombia’s cocaine production.

An initial glance at the headline to this story may have conjured images of armed drones engaged in shootouts with drug dealers in glorious slow motion. Alas – this is not the case. Colombia’s police plan to test the effectiveness of using drones to spray herbicides on coca fields, which is the precursor to cocaine.

Each drone is laden with approximately 10 liters (2 gallons) of herbicide every flight. They will be capable of destroying 8 hectares (20 acres) of coca per day. Current US estimates put the total coca crops growing in Colombia at more than 188,000 hectares.

If authorities discover as many crops as possible, this drone programme has a real chance of curbing the production of cocaine. The flow on effect is less violence, less crime and fewer people dying because of this narcotic. The manoeuvrability and small size of drones will allow authorities access to isolated grow locations they would have previously been inaccessible.

Previous spray operations in Colombia(delivered via plane) were halted due to public health and environmental concerns. Drones have the advantage of spraying from a much lower altitude than planes, thereby lowering the risk to the public. Still, some locals are reportedly worried that the herbicide may inadvertently hit crops other than cocaine.

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