Colombia Invents a Machine to Eradicate Coca Plants

How long does it take to destroy a coca plant?

About 30 seconds if you ask a group of Colombian officers from Bogotá's school of police technology, who invented a device that purportedly a pulls up a coca plant – the base substance used in making cocaine – from root up in about a half minute.

While it is still in testing stages, the Colombian government hopes that this device will help save the lives of coca plant eradicators and the police who accompany them into territory inhabited by drug traffickers and rebel groups. In 2012 alone, five eradicators and 11 policemen have been killed with 108 more wounded during the operations.

“The police’s standpoint is that neither civilians nor police officers are put at risk, but that the area where eradication is taking place is secured so the devices can come in and do the job,” said general Rodrigo González, director of the School Academy, according to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.

The plan to build the device started two years ago in Bogotá with the goal of making the machine both inexpensive and easy to develop.

The device consists of five hydraulic cylinders capable of performing three movements. One is the anchor on the ground, another is the grip of the mat, much like tweezers, and a third is used to pull up the tree. The apparatus is currently mounted on an ATV, although it can be adjusted to fit on another vehicle type.

The big concern about the machine now is that it has no armor and must be operated by a person, thus making the device and the person controlling it susceptible to mines and gunfire.

“The guerrillas' use of landmines to protect coca cultivation's has helped make Colombia the second most affected country in the world in terms of landmine injuries and deaths, just after Afghanistan,” wrote Elyssa Pachico of Insight Crime. “While the device invented by Colombian police is intended to bring down this casualty rate, the machine's ability to do so appears to be limited.”

The inventors did say that they were working on developing a more advanced design that can be controlled remotely. The current cost of the machine is valued around 50 million Colombian pesos, or about $279,000 in the U.S.

Colombia’s stepped up effort in drug interdiction has also led to 2012 being a record year for drug seizures, with the latest bust of 1.5 tons of cocaine bringing the year’s total to 241 tons. This means that Colombian authorities have seized nearly 70 percent of cocaine produced in the country, according to a comparison with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) production estimates for 2011.

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