The Colombian government will launch its crop substitution plan this year in the two provinces which produce the largest amount of coca, the plant used to create cocaine.
President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Tuesday that the Comprehensive Strategy for the Substitution of Illicit Crops discussed during the peace negotiations with guerrilla group the FARC will be implemented in the southern provinces of Putumayo and Nariño this year.
The crop substitution plan which is outlined in the third point of the peace talks agenda, “illicit drugs”, looks to eradicate coca production in Colombia which is currently the largest global producer of the illicit drug. Putumayo and Nariño are the main coca producers within Colombia.
The plan will be led by Eduardo Diaz and a new Agency for the Substitution of Illicit Crops. It will focus on social investment, crop substitution, investigation, consumption and institutional reform.
The government will seek to reach agreements with the chosen communities in which they voluntarily eradicate their illicit crops. If this does not succeed they will resort to forced eradication.
Benefits for the community and the environment
According to Santos there are 26,000 thousand families in Putumayo and Nariño that farm coca. These households will receive funding and technical agricultural support and be given land to farm outside of the nature reserves where currently two thirds of coca production takes place.
Some communities will be able to become Green Guards in order to protect those parks that are currently badly affected by coca production.
Those families who are still cultivating legal crops five years after the beginning of the plan will become the legal owners of the land given to them by the state as an incentive for participating in the crop substitution program.
The residents of the chosen provinces would see economic benefits because the government will aid them financially as well as developing better infrastructure in the areas; building aqueducts, roads, schools and hospitals.
Santos emphasized that the farmers would not be left alone during this agricultural substitution program but that the government will help with rural trade and distribution in order for their local businesses to boom.
The end of aerial fumigation
Until earlier this year Colombia was the only country to use controversial aerial fumigation in order to combat coca production. However, instead of this being successful, coca production increased over the last two years and the chemical used, glyphosate, was found to be likely carcinogenic.
Therefore, Santos reiterated in his statement that from October 1 Colombia will stop using glyphosate for the aerial fumigation of coca plantations in an effort to avoid the health problems that the use of this allegedly carcinogenic chemical causes.
However, the suspending of aerial fumigation of coca left Colombia without the means to curb the phenomenon, meaning that coca cultivation could grow even further unless radical action was taken.
If the latest plan works according to the wishes of Santos it will also save Colombia’s global reputation; “Colombia does not have to continue being the largest coca producer on the planet and we are going to prove it.”
Illicit drugs and the armed conflict
Coca production is the first link in the drug trafficking chain which brings terrible consequences of corruption and violence and for decades has financed the guerrilla activity of leftist rebel group the FARC. Eradicating coca production could help to bring peace to Colombia.
Santos explained that this plan has been discussed with the FARC, saying, “Imagine what this means. That the FARC, instead of defending illicit crops and the whole drug trafficking chain, is helping the State with its eradication.”
This crop substitution plan is part of the pending peace agreement with the FARC. Peace talks between the FARC and the government have been taking place in Havana, Cuba since November 2012 in the hope of resolving the 50-year-long conflict which left 260,000 Colombians dead and over 6 million displaced.