Farmers that grow almost 34% of Colombia’s coca have agreed to take part in a government program to replace their illicit crops with a legal alternative, according to newspaper El Tiempo.
The crop restitution scheme, which is a key component of the implementation of a peace deal between the government and Marxist FARC rebels will see 81,849 families replace approximately 63,542 hectares of coca.
Despite 17 years of US-backed “Plan Colombia” aiming at reducing the cultivation of the ingredient used to make cocaine, the $10 billion plan resulted in a 38% increase in coca production last year amounting to 188,000 hectares.
The 23 agreements aim to transform almost 34% of this territory, whereby farmers will receive government subsidies to move away from the production of illicit crops thus facilitating the implementation of one of the cornerstones of the peace deal.
Coca Cultivation in Colombia
Will the plan work?
The replacement of illicit crops was seen as essential during the negotiations between the FARC and the government in terms of achieving a long-lasting, sustainable peace after more than half a century of war.
The agreements in general cover the issues of commitment to replace and not to reschedule; the subsidies to be given to farming families; the role of community assemblies and the conditions under which forced eradication can be carried out.
However, in light of the release of the details of the scheme to see coca crops replaced, many experts such as the Foundation for Ideas for Peace (FIP) have already expressed reservations about its feasibility particularly regarding the development of these territories in their entirety.
Post-Conflict Minister Rafael Pardo has pointed out that there is a lack of clarity regarding investment in public services, which is seen as essential for the rejuvenation of this territory.
While the details of the subsidies that will be offered to farmers are stipulated, no significant planning has been outlined for the wider development of the areas that have been surviving on the cultivation of illicit crops for decades.
The second apparent shortcoming is the government’s ability to fund the program.
The subsidies will see families receive in the region of $12,000 over two years for the substitution scheme meaning the cost for the initial plan of 50,000 families would be $600 million.
With the government planning to expand this further to 80,000 families and with no definitive budget having been published, it begs the question as to whether the resources are available to see it through, let alone accompany it with infrastructural development.
The other major issue that was identified by FIP was that of the limited responsibility put in the hands of the FARC themselves.
According to the independent researcher, in 64.5% of the agreements reviewed, the FARC’s commitment is limited to accompanying and promoting the process; in the remaining 35.3%, it does not require any commitment.
The theory behind the scheme was to promote full cooperation between the local communities, the government and the FARC.
Lessons from the Briceño pilot program
The success of any crop restitution plan, like many other aspects of the implementation of the peace deal will depend on the government’s ability to curb the threat of right-wing paramilitary groups that pose a major threat.
Locals in the Antioquia town of Briceño rose up in March against a pilot crop replacement scheme as the government failed to deliver on promises made to protect them from paramilitaries, resulting in the assassinations of two farmers.
The Briceño coca growers also slated the government for not progressing with their agreement to remove landmines from territory to allow legal farming to take place.
The Colombian government must learn from the Briceño pilot scheme if progress is to be made on replacing 34% of the country’s illicit crops with legal ones.
Colombia is the world’s largest cocaine producer in spite of decades-long international efforts to fight the illicit drug and curb the cultivation of the crop used to make cocaine.