The country of Colombia is currently using ten remote-controlled drones designed to track and destroy coca – the crop used in cocaine production. The drones, each weighing 23kg (51lb), carry payloads of glyphosate – a powerful herbicide – that have reportedly destroyed hundreds of acres of coca. German Huertas, the Fumi Drone’s company Director of Operations, said the drones had eliminated about 90% of the coca on each acre (0.4 hectare) targeted during tests in the country’s Narino province.
President Iván Duque’s government hopes the drones will offer more precision than traditional crop-dusting methods, which rely on small planes and often harm legitimate nearby crops. The drones, supplied by Fumi Drone SAS, are able hover about two feet (less than 1 meter) above coca plants, spraying a much lower concentration of the glyphosate than would be required by crop-dusters.
Prior government officials has suspended aerial fumigation using glyphosate in 2015, following warnings by the World Health Organization (WHO) that the chemical could be linked to cancer. A later report from the United Nations (UN) and the WHO in 2016 reversed this finding, concluding that glyphosate was “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet”.
There is also a concern that drone usage will lead to more conflict between police and farmers. An individual drone can only handle a payload of 1/80th the amount of herbicide of a traditional plane. The low altitude and need to replenish the herbicide means more on-the-ground officers and drone operators, potentially leading to clashes with farmers growing this high cash-yielding crop.
“If they come with forced fumigation, there will be confrontations with the police,” Leider Valencia, a spokesman for an organization representing coca farmers, said. “I can promise that.”