Colombia’s government and the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC, on Sunday kicked off a pilot project that seeks to curb the cultivation of coca by offering farmers alternative crops.
Rafael Pardo, the Post-Conflict adviser of President Juan Manuel Santos, met with FARC commander “Pastor Alape” and farming representatives from the small village of Briceño to formally and jointly begin the removal of coca crops to replace them with alternative crops.
Coca is the primary ingredient to make cocaine and has long financed the FARC’s revolt against the Colombian state.
For years, authorities tried curbing coca growing by fumigating crops, but with little result.
As most farmers in remote areas are unable to produce economically viable crops because of the country’s substandard road infrastructure, many continued to produce the illicit crop.
But after years of negotiations between the government and the FARC, and an agreement to jointly combat coca cultivation, the Santos administration and the guerrillas agreed earlier this year to begin a pilot program that seeks to replace coca crops with crops that help small farmers to sustain themselves.
The pilot that was inaugurated in Briceño is supposed to provide lessons for the rest of the country where similar programs will be kicked off once a final peace deal with the FARC is signed.
Some 500 coca farmers from Briceño voluntarily applied to take part in the program and will actively take part in the planning and execution of the crop restitution program.
Farmers who after two years still grow coca will lose the possibility to take part in the program.
The coca growers in Briceño urged the government to begin improving the road infrastructure as soon as possible while guerrillas and farmers begin removing coca crops from the area.
Briceño was earlier the scene of a pilot program to remove landmines and other explosives left behind after more than half a century of armed conflict.