How Poverty Is Influencing Coca Cultivation in Colombia

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BOGOTA — On September 30, 2016, the Colombian Congress approved the new peace agreement between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). While the recent ceasefire will provide many benefits and changes to the country, uncertainty looms over the government’s plans for coca cultivation in Colombia.

The Colombian government views the destruction of the illegal drug activities as a necessary and important step to attain peace after the 52-year civil war. Along with the help of FARC, the government plans to eliminate 50 percent of coca cultivation in Colombia by the end of 2017. To accomplish this goal, it is providing farmers the choice to substitute coca for legal agricultural products such as coffee beans, plantains and bananas.

While the government has already had 76,000 families sign the campaign to transition away from illicit cultivations, many farmers are hesitant. The main cause of the vacillation is poverty. In 2016, 23 million Colombians were poor and six million lived below the extreme poverty line.

Much of Colombia’s coca cultivation takes place in the northeast, southwest and northwestern regions of the country. These areas are known to have large pockets of poverty, where communities rely on the coca trade to support their families.

In a recent interview conducted by Vice News, a coca farmer professed that he earned only $112 a month from farming coca. While this placed him far below the poverty line, he explained that he would earn half the amount if he grew other crops.

Others state that the issue is not finding other products to cultivate but rather how to store and transport them. With many small villages depending on the coca cultivation, it is difficult for the government to expect the program to become effective across the nation. These areas do not have road connections for transporting legal crops or electricity to store produce.

John Toconas, a farmer of illicit crops in Colombia, explains that when cultivating drugs like marijuana and coca, FARC would simply come, collect and pay for the produce. While FARC now fulfills its commitment to leave illegal activities behind, other criminal groups will be able to take the reins of the illegal drug industry in Colombia.

Although the government plans to provide monetary subsidies and property rights to farmers who substitute other crops for coca, many Colombians maintain a level of distrust in the current coca-reduction plan. Previous anti-drug cultivation programs have created this pessimism in the country and may also contribute to the hesitation of many farmers.

While hope spreads through the country with the conclusion of the peace talks, the Colombian government should not ignore the remaining economic constraints. Rural poverty and inequality remain national barriers that affect the outcomes of the current agricultural substitution plan. These issues should continue to be addressed by the government in order to achieve success in reducing coca cultivation in Colombia.

Tess Hinteregger
Photo: Flickr

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