Colombia’s government aims to eradicate 100,000 hectares of coca in 2017 as the country prepares to implement its post-war counter-narcotics strategy.
The ambitious goal, announced by defense minister Luis Carlos Villegas in an interview with newspaper El Tiempo, is five times higher than the 20,000 hectare goal the government set for itself, but failed to reach, in 2016.
According to El Tiempo, 17,593 hectares were eradicated last year.
Coca cultivation has been on the rise in Colombia since 2013 according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and unofficial sources there consulted by El Tiempo speculate that cultivation may have reached 130,000 hectares in 2016.
This would signal the country’s highest production of the illicit crop since 2001.
To reach its target, the government would thus have to eradicate 77% of existing coca crops in Colombia.
To do so, they will rely primarily on voluntary crop substitution and forced eradication measures, agreed in a peace deal with the FARC guerrilla group, a long-time major player in Colombia’s drug trade.
The 100,000 hectare goal takes into account cooperation from the demobilizing FARC rebel forces, and a commitment on their part to move away from the illegal activity, as a condition of the recently signed peace accords.
“Fulfillment is expected regarding what is included in the agreement, where it is specified that the FARC must become a fundamental ally for the Government’s efforts in the fight against drugs, providing detailed information,” said defense minister Luis Carlos Villegas in his interview.
According to El Tiempo, four Operational Strategic Centers have been set up across the country, where military and police officials will be based, as well as authorities responsible for educating farmers on the crop substitution programs.
State forces will move in to carry out forced eradication in areas where coca farmers refuse to accept the crop substitution methods, and in inhospitable zones.
Eradication of the crops will be carried out via land spraying methods since the US-sponsored aerial fumigation of coca crops was banned last year amid fears it could cause cancer.
However, while the controversial aerial fumigation was banned, with no alternative strategy in place, eradication efforts fell by half in 2016, reported El Tiempo.
Through the land spraying methods, which have reportedly been tested with positive results already in the southwest Tumaco region, five hectares are able to be eliminated daily.
According to Colonel Walter Giraldo Jimenez, commander of the army’s counter-narcotics unit, the first phase of eradication near the Pacific port town of Tumaco and the area around the southern San Jose del Guaviare is set to begin this week, and scheduled to last 65 days, reported El Tiempo.