The effects of AD voluntary substitution programmes in the livelihoods of coca-growing communities in Colombia : an analysis based of participatory approaches to development

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Massey University
At present, Colombia is the largest coca-producing country in the world. About seventy percent of the total area under coca cultivation worldwide is in this country. The Colombian government has responded to this challenge in two different ways. On the one hand, it has implemented forced eradication activities, such as aerial spraying, to destroy coca crops. This strategy has been largely criticized by scholars and local people for its short-term results and its negative impacts on coca-producing communities and the environment. On the other hand, the government has executed alternative development (AD) programmes aimed at addressing economic and social obstacles in these communities while providing them with productive alternatives to coca crops. This research aimed to analyse the effectiveness of AD programmes considering a key aspect in their implementation, which is the participation of the communities involved. To achieve this, this research project explored the effectiveness of the current AD programme, the National Comprehensive Plan for the Substitution of illicit crops (PNIS) through the lens of participatory approaches to development. The research found that the participation of the communities in the PNIS and other previous AD programmes in Colombia has been limited. In some scenarios, participation has been used as a buzzword on working papers rather than a real means to empower communities and build sustainable alternatives. Despite its PNIS stated purpose of addressing the limitations of past AD programmes; in practice, it has not shown clear differences with those past experiences. The government’s short-term approach of reducing coca crops in the shortest possible time has been imposed to the detriment of a long-term objective that seeks to transform the regions and guarantee the well-being of the communities affected by the crops.