Colombia will fall short by 20,000 hectares in substituting illegal coca crops agreed to in a peace deal, according to President Juan Manuel Santos.
The country’s Defense Minister, Luis Carlos Villegas, told media in February last year that his government planned to substitute 50,000 hectares of coca, the base ingredient for cocaine, with legal crops by the end of 2017.
The government later said that this deadline would be pushed back to May when the United Nations began overseeing the counter-narcotics strategy that is part of an ongoing peace process with Marxist FARC rebels.
Santos admitted on Monday that this deadline would not be met either; by the end of May, the president hopes to have eradicated 30,000 hectares.
Despite the massive oversight, Santos said he was encouraged by the “progress” of the 94,000 hectares of coca that would be eradicated either by force or voluntarily before June.
Substituting coca plants remains one of the key pillars in a 2016 peace deal the government reached with the FARC, which has since become a political party.
Cocaine production was the main form of income for the former rebel group with many peasants, be it voluntarily or involuntarily, assisting the trade by producing the lucrative coca crop.
The voluntary program has been violently opposed by illegal armed groups formed by dissident factions of the FARC and the paramilitary AUC.
The federation of coca growers has threatened to end its cooperation with the voluntary substitution program last month on claims that more than 200 farmers were murdered since peace was signed with the FARC in November 2016.
Attacks on UN observers has delayed the payment of stipends that would allow farmers to remove their coca while waiting for the first harvest of their legal crops.
The government has also forcibly eradicated coca, but this has proven to be ineffective, according to the UNODC. The international body in charge of counter-narcotics strategies said that in 80% of the cases, forcibly eradicated coca is planted again as farmers have no other means to sustain themselves.