Colombia, UNODC Sign ‘Historic’ Agreement on Coca Policy

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Colombia and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) signed an agreement to cooperate on the Andean nation’s coca reduction strategy. But the plan’s success will likely depend on the Colombian government’s uncertain ability to provide a promised investment of hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years.

Under the deal, announced on November 3, the UNODC will monitor and assist Colombia’s implementation of “alternative and sustainable development programs in areas affected by coca cultivation,” according to a press release from the Colombian presidency.

The Colombian government, however, will bear the entirety of the burden for funding the initiative, which is estimated to cost up to $315 million over a four-year period.

UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov called the agreement “historic” and said it would be “a unique opportunity to turn the tide against Colombia’s coca cultivation and help farmers embrace alternative development.”

The UNODC’s press release stressed that the strategy would focus on rural economic development programs stipulated in a November 2016 peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). Such measures are at the heart of Colombia’s long-term strategy to control coca production in the country.

“It is a comprehensive process that requires time to mature, and which protects the territory and the community from new cycles of illegality,” the document states.

Last year saw Colombia hit record levels of coca cultivation by all estimates. The UNODC estimated that approximately 146,000 hectares of coca were cultivated in the Andean country, while the US estimate hovered close to 190,000 hectares.

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The new agreement with the UNODC appears to be aimed at going beyond traditional approaches that emphasize forced eradication and repressive measures to tackle illegal coca cultivation. The Colombian government’s decision to pledge hundreds of millions is a strong indication of its dedication to alternative strategies, amid growing criticism of its failure to live up to promises regarding rural development, and international pressure from the United States to stem rising coca production.

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But it is unclear whether the project will actually receive the promised $315 million over the next four years. According to a recent report by the Ideas for Peace Foundation (Fundación Ideas Para la Paz – FIP), a lack of resources is undermining alternative strategies, such as Colombia’s efforts to convince farmers to stop growing coca in favor of licit crops.

Amid budget cuts, there is uncertainty with regard to the government’s capacity to finance these measures in the long run. And even if the funds are made available, “alternative and sustainable development programs” may encounter political obstacles. Colombia will hold presidential elections in May 2018, and a new presidential administration opposed to the FARC peace process could attempt to block funding for the implementation of the agreement, including the newly-announced cooperation project with the UNODC.

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