By Dialogo October 19, 2010 President Evo Morales on 17 October urged farmers growing coca — the source plant for cocaine — to respect production limits because the excess crop was being funnelled to the illegal drug trade. Morales, 50, is a former head of the powerful coca farmer’s union in the Chapare region, the heart of Bolivia’s coca growing region. “Part of our coca goes to the illegal market” for the production of cocaine, Morales told a meeting of some 1,000 delegates of various regional coca growing unions. Coca has been grown legally for centuries in the Andean nations, where locals use it for medicinal purposes. Chewing coca produces a mild narcotic effect that helps combat altitude sickness in the high mountain range. Coca growers have been pressing their union leaders to demand higher official production quotas. “If the whole production went to the legal market, there would be no problem, but some of it is being diverted,” Morales said. Bolivia legally allows 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of coca bushes to be planted, but currently more than double that amount — some 30,500 hectares (75,400 acres) — are under cultivation, according to figures from the Organization of American States (OAS). Forty-five percent of the world’s coca leaf production comes from neighboring Peru, according to a June report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Nearly 40 percent is grown in Colombia, and 15 percent is grown in Bolivia, according to the report. Colombia remains the largest source for processed cocaine, and United States and Europe are the main cocaine-consuming markets, according to the UN report.