Colombia has announced a new coca eradication and crop substitution strategy that seeks to combat drug trafficking at its roots, yet the proposal will likely struggle in parts of the country where poor infrastructure make legal crops economicaly uncompetitive.
The strategy, announced by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on September 22, is intended to combat cocaine trafficking at every step of the drug chain. There are six areas of focus:
- Social Investment: Expanding the presence of the state in coca growing areas by building roads, schools, health centers, aqueducts, and service networks.
- Substitution: The government will seek to reach agreements with communities for voluntary coca eradication, but will resort to forced eradication if necessary. Beneficiary communities will receive financing and technical advice to develop appropriate agricultural projects. Additionally, if farmers go five years cultivating licit products they will be eligible to receive legal titles to their land.
- Interdiction: The government will continue to pursue criminal organizations and criminal networks dedicated to drug trafficking.
- Investigation and Judicial Processing: Legal tools will be developed to aid in the fight against illegal drugs and reduce impunity.
- Consumption: The Ministry of Health will coordinate with 10 other agencies to focus on drug prevention, treatment, and risk reduction
- Institutional Reform: The new Agency for Illicit Crop Substitution will be created, as well as a fund to finance the strategy.
Santos said a fundamental aspect of the new strategy is focusing efforts. Of Colombia's 1,102 municipalities, coca is cultivated in 204, but 43 percent of coca production is concentrated in only 10 municipalities.
Former Minister of Health Eduardo Diaz will direct the strategy, which will begin to be implemented over 2015 and 2016 in the two departments where coca production is greatest: Putumayo and Nariño.
According to El Tiempo, the strategy will require around $15 billion dollars to implement.
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In the last year, Colombia has once again become the leading cocaine producer in the world, according to the United Nations, which recorded a 44 percent increase in the number of hectares under cultivation between 2013 and 2014.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Coca
The new strategy to address this is a markedly different approach to the strategy it will replace -- the aerial fumigation of coca crops with the herbicide glyphosate, a practice which in May Santos ordered an end to after health authorities ruled the chemical was likely carcinogenic. This softer approach, with its focus on voluntary eradication, crop substitution and the incentive of land titling, is closely tied to the government's ongoing peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and reflects the commitments made in agreements with the FARC on the drug trade and rural reform.
However, while the new strategy has promise, it will likely face old problems. Much of Colombia's coca cultivation is concentrated in isolated regions such as the southern departments where the scheme is to be piloted, where poor infrastructure means transport costs are sky high, making production uncompetitive. While the government has promised investments in infrastructure to remedy this, even if these commitments are met they will take time, and the state will likely have to subsidize production in the meantime to ensure that farmers do not turn back to coca as their only economically viable option.