Getting to the Briceño region in the heart of Antioquia requires an excellent vehicle, and a lot of time and luck. The week before our journey there in mid-July, heavy rains wiped out part of the road between Briceño and Pueblo Nuevo, stranding folks on one side or the other. We were lucky on the day of our journey – no rain. But it took a six-hour drive to get from Medellín to Briceño, and another three hours of sometimes harrowing curves to Pueblo Nuevo. The dirt-road drive itself was a stark reminder of the challenges Colombia faces as it seeks to eliminate 50,000 hectares of coca this year through the crop substitution program, Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito (National Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops), known by the acronym PNIS.
The PNIS is at the heart of point four of the peace accord signed between the government and the FARC, the part that pledges to bring a “Solution to the Illicit Drugs Problem” and to eliminate the illicit cultivation of coca, cannabis, and opium poppy. The government is signing accords at the community level as well as with individual families, in which the farmers commit to “voluntarily” eradicate their coca in exchange for immediate cash compensation during the first year and small project investments in the second year. The accords delineate that each farmer will receive a total of 36 million pesos spread over two years (about US$12,000), and also serve as a government promise to invest in transforming these rural economies in the longer term. About a month before our visit to the Briceño region, about 650 families had each received two million pesos (about US$675) for the first two months, which set the clock ticking. They then had 60 days to uproot their coca bushes (no easy task) or lose their right to receive any further development assistance and potentially face criminal prosecution.
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