EU-funded agricultural projects in Colombia that make use of former coca plantations could be expanded if a fragile peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces guerrilla movement (FARC) survives.
On Thursday (3 March), Colombian post-conflict minister Rafael Pardo visited one of the projects in the south-east of the country, where, after years of growing coca for the illegal drugs trade, farms are now growing rubber plants, pineapples and harvesting timber instead.
The Sinaí farm forms part of an EU-funded project that aims to foment peace in regions around the world and create income for local communities.
“These projects are already at a stage where we know what does work and what doesn’t work, where they can be done and how they can be expanded to benefit these farmers,” Pardo told EFE.
The minister emphasised that these programmes are “very important” as they “show what can actually be achieved”.
“We don’t want it to be a question of improvisation, we want solid production models that can actually work,” he added.
Pardo visited the site and talked with the farm’s owner who lost three hectares of coca plants during Plan Colombia, a joint initiative between the South American country and the United States, which included using the herbicide glyphosate to destroy coca crops.
Since then, farmers that have lost their livelihoods during the fight against drugs have been able to diversify what they produce, thanks to funding provided by the EU over the last two decades.
The EU, through the European External Action Service (EEAS), has long been a supporter of the Colombian peace process, but the success of the projects could depend on whether a ceasefire between the Colombian government and FARC holds or not.
The United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed in January to launch an unarmed mission to monitor the fragile truce, with the hope that a long-awaited peace deal can be negotiated soon.
Farmers and local communities have often found themselves in the crossfire of fighting over the last 50 years, with their land the venue for countless skirmishes.
FARC has routinely used the illegal drugs trade, of which cocaine production forms the backbone, to fund its operations. A return to conflict would probably see projects of this nature abandoned.
Colombia is the EU’s fourth most important economic partner in the region, with a trade volume of €11.88 billion. The EU is Colombia's second biggest trading partner.
EU-Colombia relations are underpinned by economic and development cooperation that was supported by €160 million between 2007-2013.
Colombia is one of the most landmine-effected countries on the planet and on 5 February the international community launched the Demining Initiative, with the aim of removing explosive devices and munitions that have built up over the last few decades of fighting. The EU has already launched several projects with the same aim, and is now contributing to this new joint effort.