The Colombian government and FARC leadership launched a key part of their historic peace agreement on Friday, announcing a massive crop substitution project which will allow almost 50, 000 small Campesino farmers to transition away from growing illicit crops.
"The goal is to replace approximately 50,000 hectares of illicit crops during the first year of implementation in more than 40 municipalities in the most affected departments," the government and the rebels said in a joint statement.
The crop substitution project was a key part of the historic peace agreement signed in November of last year, where the FARC leadership insisted that massive investments be made in impoverished rural areas to help with the transition to a peace economy.
For decades impoverished small-scale farmers in Colombia had to grow illicit crops— including coca, opium, and marijuana— in order to survive in rural areas devastated by Colombia’s neo-liberal economic policies.
While the right-wing Colombian government and their U.S. backers often accused the FARC rebels of being key players in the drug trade, the Marxist group and their supporters point out that they merely imposed a tax on some crops in order to fund their resistance.
Colombia’s post-conflict minister, Rafael Pardo, said that the government has allocated $340 million for the project, adding that he also hopes international agencies will offer additional funding.
Depending on the area, the plan looks to substitute illicit crops with cacao and fruit trees. Families who commit to the voluntary drug crop-substitution program will receive a monthly stipend of US$340 and will be eligible for two one-time--payments of up to US$3 thousand for implementing additional food security projects, including fish and poultry farming.
As thousands of former guerrillas begin moving into safe zones, many fear that right-wing paramilitary and other organized crime groups will look to invade areas formerly secured by FARC troops in an effort to expand the drug trade, potentially reviving the deadly drug wars of the 1980’s and 90’s.