A new UN study showing a steep rise in the cultivation of the leaf used to make cocaine offers fresh support to Colombia’s recent decision to end the aerial spraying of drug crops with herbicides, government officials said on Thursday.

The area under coca cultivation rose 44% in 2014 to 69,000 hectares or 175,000 acres, according to a report released on Thursday by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which monitors the crops by satellite. Potential cocaine production soared from 290 tonnes in 2013 to 442 tonnes in 2014, up 52%.