Colombia’s agricultural minister announced on Monday that there will be measures to prevent fraud occurring in the coffee sector after thousands of false transactions for subsidy payments.
The Minister of Agriculture, Ruben Dario Lizarralde, and the president of the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC), Luis Genaro Muñoz, made the announcement following tens of thousands of complaints made by members of the FNC for false subsidy transactions.
The FNC says it has reported roughly 20,000 such cases to the prosecutor general’s office.
At a special committee earlier this month, Colombia’s coffee producers asked the government to allocate $530 million of subsidy payments for 2014 as part of the country’s Income Protection scheme for Coffee (PIC) in the hope of meeting the production target in the next term of at least 11 million bags of coffee.
The PIC is a controversial program setup after protests in February that hopes to strengthen production of Colombia’s coffee, one of the country’s most important industries for many years. It was originally set to provide $443 million in aid, allocating subsidies of $70 per load for small and medium-sized coffee growers. But growers claim that the fund has been almost impossible to access.
During the special committee meeting, the president of the Committee of Coffee Growers of Caldas, Marcelo Salazar Velasquez, called on the government to address the issue of fraud in the payment from the PIC. At the time more than 20 complaints had been brought before the authorities on this issue, leading to tens of millions in losses.
Muñoz, head of the FNC, echoed these concerns in making the joint statement this Monday: “It is truly distressing to note that some are using all kinds of tricks including fraud, intimidation and deception, with the intent to benefit from the support of the PIC.”
Lizarralde has been seen as taking a tough and controversial stance on coffee farming in recent months. Last month he used strong words and indicated that it may not be viable to continue pushing for growth in the sector. He said, “it may not be possible to continue encouraging the planting of coffee, especially when this product at the moment is fast becoming the bane of many farmers.”
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