Ditching coca for other crops, Colombia’s farmers ask: Where do we sell?

christian science monitorBy the time he made it to the final booth at the open-air community center in this small Amazonian town, Rafael Pardo, Colombia’s high commissioner for post-conflict, human rights, and security, was loaded up with more produce than he could carry.

Melon, yucca, sugar cane, black pepper, pineapple, cacao, ground corn, squishy white campesino (peasant farmer) cheese – a healthy sampling of the rich agrarian potential the government hopes to foster in the impoverished, war-torn countryside. For years, the economy in states like Putumayo, near the Ecuadorean border, revolved almost exclusively around a single crop: coca, used to make cocaine. But the government is trying to change that, capitalizing on recent peace accords to end decades of drug-fueled conflict.

“Here, there’s obviously no shortage of options going forward,” Mr. Pardo says at the event, which La Carmelita residents organized to mark the start of a local coca substitution program. It’s one of five national pilots launched as part of Colombia’s historic 2016 peace accord between the administration of Nobel peace laureate President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

But, Mr. Prado says, “It’s not what the soil can produce so much as what the producer can sell.” …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

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