With the FARC in the process of leaving behind their areas of influence to demobilize and reintegrate into society, coca growers in Colombia are increasingly worried about their safety and livelihood.
The FARC’s presence in coca growing regions used to serve as a security guarantee against other criminal groups.
Now, farmers worry that these criminal groups will move in on the deserted territories as has happened in many of the country’s remote coca-growing regions already.
“The fear is that when [the guerrillas] leave, security is over,” Roberto Delgado, a businessman from the Nariño municipality of Policarpa, told El Pais.
With the FARC “there has been respect, they sanction those who cause disorder,” he added.
According to coca farmer Jesus Romero, also of Nariño, “from the moment the FARC surrender and this municipality is left alone, what happened in previous years may repeat itself…there was a war between various groups for control,” El Pais reported.
The government is aiming to remove an ambitious 50,000 hectares of coca crops across the country in 2017 through crop substitution, and another 50,000 through manual eradication efforts.
Under the peace deal, coca farmers will be allowed to voluntarily take part in a government-funded crop substitution program for their coca fields.
In the northwestern department of Cordoba, the Tierralta Municipal Table of Victims called on the government to explain what security guarantees will be put in place to assure the hundreds of families that have been living off of their small coca plantations, newspaper El Heraldo reported.
“What we believe is that it is possible that many communities will not accept the government’s offer, not because it does not appeal to them, but because of the fear that they may be killed or displaced from their areas,” Alvaro Alvarez, coordinator of the Municipal Table, was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
Many of Colombia’s municipalities that have relied on the cultivation of coca as their only means of survival are further concerned about how they will support themselves and their families without the illicit crop.
“Here the strong [crop] is coca, if that is ended there is nothing, people survive from that,” Delgado, whose municipality is preparing to implement a crop substitution program, told newspaper El Pais.
It is not just doubts about the viability of other crops that have farmers on edge, they do not believe the government will keep its promises about increased access to agricultural markets and better infrastructure.
“We live on coca because the other products do not work,” Alexandra Matitui of Nariño told El Pais.
“In addition, they have us abandoned here; there are no roads, there are no bridges, there is no way to water,” she continued. With coca, “we don’t have to take it to the city. The buyers come here.”
As further incentive to participate in the crop substitution programs, Colombia’s National Land Agency will provide 10,000 land titles in 2017 to coca farmers who leave cultivation of the illicit crop behind, RCN Radio reported.
Miguel Samper, the Director of the NLA, told RCN that “six out of ten peasant families are not the owners of the land they work.”
“Formalization [of the land] is absolutely fundamental, not only in light of the post-conflict, but also in order to reactivate the countryside as an engine of the national economy,” Samper stated.
Colombia is estimated by the United Nations to have 96,000 hectares of coca across the country.
The US estimates that some 159,000 hectares of Colombian farmland were used for coca cultivation in 2016.