The first five months of the coca substitution program launched as part of Colombia’s peace process with the FARC guerrilla group has seen over 75,000 families agree to eradicate more than 79,000 hectares of coca crops.
According to a new report by the Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), the first stages of the government’s National Integrated Substitution of Crops of Illicit Use Program (PNIS) has seen the signing of 29 collective agreements for voluntary coca eradication and substation in coca growing communities in 13 departments.
The number of families participating in the program is expected to rise, and could eventually reach 132,774 families responsible for 118,504 hectares of coca, according to government projections.
In some regions, the government has begun making the first payments to families that have signed on for the deal, who will receive subsidies to compensate for their initial loss of income followed by further payments to help them set up substitution projects. In total, each family can expect to receive approximately $11,000 over the course of two years.
The total cost of these payments to the government will be $800 million for the number of families signed on so far, rising to approximately $1.5 billion if the additional families also agree to the deal, according to the FIP.
After receiving their initial payments, the families are expected to eradicate their coca crops within 60 days, with 10,000 hectares slated for beginning the eradication process by the end of July, the report states.
The FIP report also highlighted the main challenges confronting the implementation of the PNIS.
Among them are concerns about the lack of clarity about the role of the FARC, security issues surrounding the arrival of rival armed groups co-opting the trade, a lack of communication with agencies responsible for forced coca eradication, and the lack of action on promised rural development reforms, especially the infrastructure projects that will be key to the success of the substitution projects.
The PNIS was a central plank of the peace agreement with the FARC, who before their demobilization were the overseers of approximately two thirds of Colombia’s coca crop. In some regions, they taxed coca farmers and traders, while in others they monopolized the sale and transport of coca base – the intermediary stage in cocaine production – or in some cases even processed it themselves into cocaine and trafficked it through foreign contacts.