The Colombian government has lauded the success of its stringent targets for the eradication of coca crops nationwide, but with replanting rates estimated at up to 67 percent, the impact of this campaign is in doubt.
Between January and October of 2019, public security forces have managed to eradicate 65,231 hectares of coca, or 80 percent of the government's 80,000-hectare eradication target for the year, according to a report by El Tiempo.
Last year, Colombia saw its first drop, albeit a minuscule one, in its total coca crop cultivation since 2012, falling from 209,000 hectares in 2017 to 208,000 hectares in 2018, according to data from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
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However, replanting is occurring at a rate of between 50 and 67 percent, according to Miguel Ceballos, Colombia's High Commissioner for Peace.
This information corroborates data from the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz – INDEPAZ), which has estimated replanting rates at around 50 percent.
The territories most affected by this phenomenon are the departments of Antioquia, Guaviare, Norte de Santander and Vichada, according to INDEPAZ.
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There are a plethora of reasons for rural farmers to persist in planting coca crops despite government eradication programs.
On the one hand, communities that plant coca are subject to constant pressure from criminal groups that control drug trafficking in their area. Due to threats, attacks and murders, rural farmers feel obliged to replant crops eradicated by the Army in order to continue providing these organizations with the raw material they demand.
At the same time, faced with the improbability of accessing another source of income, many communities see the coca leaf as their only means of survival. A rural farmer from the municipality of Cumaribo in Vichada told InSight Crime that like many other locals, the coca leaf is his only source of income, forcing him to replant.
During field trips to Vichada and Norte de Santander, InSight Crime confirmed that farmers are sometimes able to pay off soldiers to leave their crops alone, or to allow them to destroy only a portion while reporting total eradication.
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At times, in order to avoid losing their greatest source of income, communities are even willing to confront armed forces. During a recent forced eradication operation in the municipality of San Miguel in Putumayo department along Colombia's border with Ecuador, a violent confrontation between police and community members left one rural farmer dead and 33 others injured.
It should be noted that rural farmers have consistently denounced the failure of crop substitution programs. These were created as part of the 2016 peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia -- FARC) to offer farmers legal alternatives to coca cultivation.
“When the program was proposed to us, the government made a show of its offers ... but it was badly planned ... the contracts were not awarded, making the other stages [of the crop substitution plan] impossible," one farmer in Antioquia told El Espectador.
Another major factor for the high rate of replanting is that manual eradication efforts in Colombia appear to lack essential planning elements. On several occasions, the teams responsible for this task did not assure that the root of the plant was removed, which otherwise permits the plant to regrow within just four months.
It is partially due to these types of challenges faced by eradication programs that the administration of President Iván Duque states that, regardless of past failures and the high humanitarian costs, a return to aerial fumigation using the controversial herbicide glyphosate is the only way to stop coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia.
Nevertheless, INDEPAZ reported that the effectiveness of voluntary crop substitution programs is 99.4 percent, with replanting rates reaching just 0.6 percent.