AP PHOTOS: Peru's coca destroyers perform grueling work

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NTP: Destroying coca plants (cocaine) in Peru
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AP PHOTOS: Peru's coca destroyers perform grueling work
In this Oct. 27, 2015 photo, a man navigates his boat along the Lorencillo River in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon. Farmers in this region have lost their livelihoods to the government's campaign to destroy the plant used to make cocaine. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 28, 2015 photo, a worker pulls up a coca plant in Nueva Esperanza, a remote village in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon. The plant destroyers earn $17 a day, or about $510 a month, which in Peru is a little more than double the minimum wage and a lot more than the average $2 a day earned by farmers who often live in miserable conditions. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 28, 2015 photo, children play in a river as workers arrive to destroy their families' coca crops in Nueva Esperanza, a remote village in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon. Coca farmers, like the coca eradicators, are typically migrants from poor communities. However the women and children who lost their crops nevertheless appeared hopeful, because they know the visitors will probably have leftover fruit and cookies from their military rations, and be happy to share them with the people they have just deprived of income. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 28, 2015 photo, a worker folds a towel outside his tent pitched on a field previously burned down by local farmers in Nueva Esperanza, a remote village in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon. The men hired to destroy farmers' coca crops don't use fire but instead a shovel-handled tool with a cylindrical head to tear out by their roots the plants that are used to make cocaine. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 28, 2015 photo, workers hired to destroy coca fields clean off the day's grime in the Lorencillo River near their base camp in Nueva Esperanza, a remote village in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon. The eradicators' work is extremely hard as they labor under a hot sun and walk as much as four hours daily _ two hours to and two hours from the coca growing zones. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 28, 2015 photo, sellable coca leaves lay with corn cobs on a farmer's property after his coca crop was destroyed by workers from the Control and Reduction of Coca Leaf in Upper Huallaga (CORAH) in Nueva Esperanza, a remote village in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon. Peru is the world's top cocaine-producing nation and number 2 behind Colombia in land area under coca cultivation. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 28, 2015 photo, a coca leaf eradicator returns to base camp with his "cococho" tool after a day of uprooting farmers' coca crops in Nueva Esperanza, a remote village in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon. The eradicators work eight days in the jungle, then get eight days off. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 28, 2015 photo, women and children wait near the base camp set up by men hired to eradicate their families' coca crops in hopes of receiving military food leftovers in Nueva Esperanza, a remote village in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon. This year saw Peru's first violent "cocalero" protest since 2012, when several hundred growers attacked eradicators and police. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 28, 2015 photo, Waldir Rodriguez, who was hired to destroy illegal coca crops, takes an early morning shower at a base camp set up by the Control and Reduction of Coca Leaf in Upper Huallaga (CORAH) in a field that was burned down by local farmers in Nueva Esperanza, a remote village in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon. Although the eradicators destroyed a record number of coca plants in 2013-14, they havenât pulled a single bush out of the main production area: the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valley, which lies to the south, where about 15 drug trafficking groups operate. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 29, 2015 photo, students Atmer Augusto, right, and David Cajos, from the Yarina Industrial Technical secondary school, pose for a portrait with a Peruvian flag after rehearsing for a parade that will mark the anniversary of their village, Puerto Libre, in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon where many farmers grow coca, the plant used to make cocaine. Juan Manuel Torres, a drug policy expert with the nonprofit Center for Research into Drugs and Human Rights, advocates a more integrated approach to coaxing coca farmers to plant different crops : low-interest loans and a phased eradication that would let farmers keep some coca while introducing new crops. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 29, 2015 photo, U.S. helicopters transport workers from the Control and Reduction of Coca Leaf in Upper Huallaga (CORAH) at the end of their work week in Nueva Esperanza, a remote village in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon. The eradicators, typically migrants from dirt-poor highlands communities, work eight days in the jungle, then get eight days off. The U.S. government funds much of the work. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 29, 2015 photo, counter narcotic police providing security for men hired to destroy coca fields, eat lunch minutes before U.S. helicopters return for the group after their 8-day work week in Nueva Esperanza, a remote village in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon. A coca eradicator hasnât been killed on the job since 2012, the year Peru was declared the worldâs top cocaine producer. The programâs director Juan Zarate said 46 people have died tearing up the plants since the effort began in 1983. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 29, 2015 photo, Anais and her brother George lay back on a hot day during a four-hour trip as their father Mario Maduero pushes their boat across a shallow part of the Lorencillo river, as they travel from Nueva Esperanza to Lorencillo in Peru's Amazon. Peru's dry season makes traveling by river a long and exhausting commute. For many Amazon residents, rivers are the only way to access other communities where they can see a doctor or buy supplies. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 29, 2015 photo, tools used to uproot coca plants, known locally as a "Cococho," lay on the ground as a U.S. helicopter flies coca eradicators out of Nueva Esperanza, a remote village in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 29, 2015 photo, Anais and her brother Melvin drink water from a puddle in Nueva Esperanza, a remote village in the municipality of Ciudad Constitucion in Peru's Amazon where workers arrived to destroy local farmers' coca crops. A record-breaking U.S.-backed eradication campaign has affected roughly a half million Peruvians. Growers say they want eradication halted until the government offers them better alternatives for making a living. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Oct. 29, 2015 photo, Daniel Osoriaga, a municipal worker who promotes alternative crops to coca farmers, rests in a shallow area of the Lorencillo River during a four hour trip by boat and foot from Nueva Esperanza to Lorencillo in Peru's Amazon. According to Peru's government, families got financial support or help with alternative crops last year after their coca fields were destroyed. But many get no assistance rejected what was offered. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
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NUEVA ESPERANZA, Peru (AP) — Destroying coca plants is grueling work.

Using a shovel-handled tool with a cylindrical head, Peruvian coca eradicators tear out by their roots the plants that are used to make cocaine.

The plant destroyers earn $17 a day, or about $510 a month, which in Peru is a little more than double the minimum wage. It's a lot more than the average $2 a day earned by farmers who often live in miserable conditions.

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But the eradicators' work is extremely hard as they labor under a hot sun and walk as much as four hours daily — two hours to and two hours from the coca-growing zones.

On a recent day, a group of 300 coca plant destroyers began work early in Nueva Esperanza, a remote village in the central Amazon jungle. They disembarked from four UH-2H helicopters owned by the U.S. government, which funds much of the work.

About 100 Peruvian narcotics police with assault rifles guarded them, even though a coca eradicator hasn't been killed on the job since 2012, the year Peru was declared the world's top cocaine producer. The program's director, Juan Zarate, said 46 people have died in the course of destroying the plants since the effort began in 1983. There are about 2,300 eradicators in all, he said.

Although the eradicators destroyed a record 136,000 acres (55,000 hectares) of coca plants in 2013-14, they haven't pulled a single bush out of the main production area — the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valley, which lies to the south. There are an estimated 15 drug trafficking groups in that region.

Coca farmers, like the eradicators, are typically migrants from dirt-poor highlands communities. The growers usually look on in silence as members of the eradication team destroy their plants. Children playing in a river watch the workers march by.

Related: See the struggle faced by Peru's coca farmers:

22 PHOTOS
Peruvian coca farmers struggling
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AP PHOTOS: Peru's coca destroyers perform grueling work
In this July 18, 2015 photo, Edma Duran, right, works with her children Miguelina Diego and Jack Diego to salvage the still sellable coca leaves after their crop was torn out by the government two days before in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru. Thefamily plannedto sell the usable but damaged coca leaves below market price. “This is what we live off,” says the 40-year-old mother of six. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 18, 2015 photo, rubber boots hang to dry outside the Diego family home in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru, two days after their coca crop was uprooted by the government's eradication program. The “cocaleros” say they want eradication halted until the government offers viable alternatives. “Nobody buys anything but coca,” said Edma, Duran, wife of Evaristo Diego.(AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 18, 2015 photo, Edma Duran, 40, left, walks home through thick mud with her daughter Miguelina and Jack after salvaging damaged coca leaves on their farm that were affected by a government eradication program two days prior in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru. After a government crew uprooted it for the first time in 2013, Edma Duran and her husband Evaristo Diego planted bananas. But when the fruit ripened, the river that connects them with the nearest market town was dry. So they trekked for five hours with a hundred bananas between them. The buyer paid them just one dollar, said Duran. They went back to planting coca. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 19, 2015 photo, Sandra Medina plays cops and robbers with her brother Nelson in Camantarma, Peru. Every family's coca crop in this town was pulled up in 2013 as part of a government coca eradication program. Despite the government's eradication program, Peru remains the world’s top cocaine-producing nation, and its most dense coca fields grow undisturbed, far from this town's ravaged plots. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 19, 2015 photo, people wash their clothes in the Santa Isabel River in El Dorado, Peru. Every family's coca crop in this town was pulled up in 2013 as part of a government coca eradication program. Many farmers say they tried alternative crops, like bananas, coffee and cacao, but that it was less profitable and logistically difficult to get to market. Most farmers returned to growing coca which is harvested four times a year and some buyers even pay for it in advance. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 18, 2015 photo, four-year-old Isbeth Estela rests on a dead tree outside her home in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru, an area where framers' coca crops were pulled up by a government drug eradication program. Estela lives with her grandfather, mother and brother on a farm where they grow coca and raise pigs and chickens. Coca destruction in 2013-2014 marked a 30 percent decrease in land planted with coca, and the government says it’s on pace to destroy nearly two-thirds as much this year. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
This July 18, 2015 photo shows the one hectare coca farm of German Estela in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru, an area where farmers' coca crops were pulled up in a government eradication program. Under Peru's current president, eradicators largely cleared the Upper Huallaga Valley, the cradle of the cocaine trade, but the cocaleros simply moved elsewhere. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 18, 2015 photo, German Estela sits on a log as he poses for a portrait in his coca field, where his plants were pulled up in a government eradication program in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru. Estela lives with his daughter and two grandchildren on their farm where they grow coca and raise pigs and chickens. However it's the coca crop that the family was counting on to pay a $1,000 dollar debt for German's medication to treat mental illness. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 18, 2015 photo, a motorcycle taxi drives past farms along an unusually empty road on the outskirts of of Ciudad Constitucion, Peru, during a protest by coca farmers that paralyzed the town. Motorcycle taxis are the most popular way for residents to travel to and from their farms to the state capital to buy food and supplies. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 18, 2015 photo, a dog rests under an outdoor stove at German Estela's home in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru, an area where framers' coca crops were pulled up by a government drug eradication program. Counternarcotics police Sgt. Miguel Ore says the people who flee when police arrive with eradication teams are almost always processing coca leaves into “pasta basica” in maceration pits, but plenty stay put. “They are very poor people,” he said. “They drop to their knees and beg us to leave them a little, because that’s what they live off.” (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 18, 2015 photo, German Estela wears a pair of rubber boots that he cut down into shoes, on his farm in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru. Estela lives with his daughter and two grandchildren on their farm where they grow coca and raise pigs and chickens. However it's the coca crop that the family was counting on to pay off a $1,000 dollar debt for German's medication to treat mental illness. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 18, 2015 photo, Hermelinda Estela returns home with freshly washed clothes for her children in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru, where framers' coca crops were pulled up by a government drug eradication program. Estela and her two children live on a farm with her father, where they grow coca, and raise pigs and chickens. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 18, 2015 photo, the Diego family prepares dinner inside their palm roofed home in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru, two days after their coca crop was torn out by the government's eradication program. Their village of 110 people lacks electricity, telephone and running water and is five hours from the nearest doctor. In November, officials arrived offering cacao seeds to supplant their coca crops, but the family turned them down, after having already lost a previous investment in bananas. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 18, 2015 photo, Lidia Diego returns home in the early morning after feeding the pigs on her family's farm, in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru, where the family grows coca, onions and raises cattle. Last year, according to Peru’s government, 43,000 families got support to compensate for destroyed coca fields. But half a million people live off the crop in Peru and many eradication victims don’t get assistance or, like Lidia's family, have rejected what was offered. “They give you a machete and a few cacao seeds and then they forget about you,” complained Lidia's mother, Edma Duran. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 18, 2015 photo, items sit in the kitchen window of the Diego family home in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru. The Diego family depends on their one hectare coca crop for cash, and also survive by raising cattle and growing onions on their farm, located five days away by boat or foot from the nearest town. On Sundays they travel those five hours to shop at the market for food. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 17, 2015 photo, four-year-old Natalia Diego wakes up in the morning on her kitchen's floor in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru, two days after their coca crop was manually removed as part of the government's eradication program. The family's coca plot of less than a hectare (2.5 acres) yields the family less than $1,000 at harvest every four months. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 17, 2015 photo, villagers listen to coca farming leaders during a protest in Ciudad Constitucion, Peru, against the government's eradication of their coca fields. Juan Manuel Torres, a drug policy expert with the nonprofit Center for Research into Drugs and Human Rights, said a more integrated approach to coaxing farmers off coca is needed, with the state building roads and offering financial incentives such as low-interest loans. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 17, 2015 photo, riot police walk past a statue of Peru's former President Fernando Belaunde Terry during a coca farmers protest and strike that paralyzed the entire town of Ciudad Constitucion, Peru. Belaunde Terry is respected for his development of entire cities in the jungle, located in the center of the country known as "Selva Central," or Central Jungle, where his government built most of the roads people use today. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 17, 2015 photo, a boy watches police during a protest by coca farmers in Ciudad Constitucion, Peru against the government's eradication of their coca fields. Since the cocaine boom ignited in Peru and neighboring Colombia and Bolivia in the 1970s, thousands of families migrated to coca-growing areas on the Andes’ eastern slope to live off the cocaine economy. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 17, 2015 photo, four-year-old Natalia Diego, left, stands with her brother Jack Diego, 8, right, and two-year-old cousin Roy Duran outside their kitchen before dinner in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru, two days after their family's coca crop was eradicated. Thousands of families similarly stripped of their income source complain that government programs designed to ease the shock of eradication haven’t reached them. Critics call it a recipe for social explosion. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this July 17, 2015 photo, a coca plant lays uprooted on the Diego family's small coca farm in Nuevo Canaveral, Peru, two days after the coca crop on their one hectare of land was torn out by the government. The family is one of thousands affected by Peru's campaign to eradicate the plant used to make cocaine. In 2013-2014, the Andean nation dropped to No. 2 behind Colombia in area cultivated with coca. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
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The eradicators sleep under plastic sheets tied to tree trunks in forests denuded by coca cultivators. Sometimes they are lucky enough to be able to pitch camp beside a river where they can wash off the day's grit.

Once a day, helicopters arrive from their base in Ciudad Constitucion with clean water and hot food. The eradicators work eight days in the jungle, then get eight days off.

On the final day of one eradication mission, women and children who lost their crops nevertheless appear hopeful. They know the visitors will probably have leftover fruit and cookies from their military rations, and will be happy to share them with the people they have just deprived of their livelihood.

More on Peru's cocaine trade:

Peru Now World's Largest Producer of Cocaine

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Associated Press writer Franklin Briceno in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.

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