In February 2017, a delegation of 8 coca growers from across Colombia traveled to Bolivia to learn about the country’s shift from forced eradication and conditioned alternative development to community coca control and integrated development. Through meetings with civil society, social organizations, and government ministries, the delegation was encouraged to envision how Bolivia’s experiences could apply to Colombia, where coca reduction has emerged as a critical point in the historic post-conflict transition.
Colombia’s government-FARC peace agreement, signed in September 2016, brought renewed vigor to crop reduction programs. Accordingly, officials assert that unlike coca reduction strategies of the past, “alternative development” in a post-conflict environment will achieve unprecedented success. President Santos said “with the FARC’s commitment to help substitute illicit crops we can reach a solution to the drug trafficking problem.” However, a look at the experience of neighbor Bolivia demonstrates that crop substitution programs have failed to combat illicit cultivation in Colombia for structural reasons beyond the armed conflict. Since the agreement, the coexistence of crop substitution programs with violent forced eradication has generated mistrust, and sparked protest among coca farming communities across the country.
Although completely eradicating illicit crop production is impossible given the demand-driven nature of the industry, transforming development programs cooperatively with affected communities could both reduce coca cultivation and secure social peace. To do this, there are a number of lessons Colombia can learn from Bolivia.
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