Colombian government and rebels announce cocaine crop plan

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View of a coca field on a hillside in a rural area of Policarpa, department of Narino, Colombia, on January 15, 2017Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Rebels once dominated the coca trade - but are now helping to eradicate it

Colombia has announced a plan to eradicate vast crops of coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine.

The Farc rebel group relied on cocaine production to fund its insurgency, and controlled much of the industry.

But a joint programme between rebels and the government will offer farmers monthly payments if they voluntarily destroy their crops.

They will also be offered loans and guidance to plant alternatives such as fruit trees and cacao.

The crop substitution programme was agreed as part of Colombia's peace accord, which was finally ratified in December.

The Colombian official responsible for the programme, Rafael Pardo, said the government would invest $340m (£271m), which would benefit 50,000 families.

Last year, President Juan Manuel Santos decided to suspend US-backed aerial fumigation of illegal coca crops.

The government has set a goal of destroying 100,000 hectares of coca this year, and has yet to rule out other methods to bring coca levels down.

Media caption,

Ian Pannell was allowed to look around one raided cocaine lab before the authorities blew it up

But the preferred strategy appears to be winning over the estimated 64,000 peasant families dependent on the coca trade.

"This is much more cost-efficient and furthermore ensures that territories are transformed and people's lives are changed," Mr Pardo said.

Each family would receive a monthly stipend of around $350 (£280) as well as loans, subsidies, and technical assistance.

The programme is supported by the Farc and will initially focus on 40 municipalities responsible for more than half of Colombia's coca production.

During the armed conflict, the Farc initially taxed farmers producing coca in areas under its control, but eventually dominated trafficking in those areas.

As the Farc leave these regions to comply with the peace accord, the concern is that other armed groups including paramilitary and other crime gangs will try to replace them and take over the trade.