Professor Andrew Barnes, from SRUC’s Land Economy Research department, has been given funding by the UK Newton Research Fund and will work in collaboration with the Centre of International Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and the universities of Reading, Leeds and Bristol to help Colombian farmers move into clean and sustainable alternatives to the coca plant.
Coca, the raw material used in cocaine, has long been the major source of employment and cash payments for rural farmers who would otherwise struggle to support their families and sustain life in rural Colombia. It is a problem that has plagued the South American country’s rural community for decades.
Prof Barnes is involved in projects that help these farmers into clean and sustainable crop farming and developing heat-tolerance in bean varieties that can replace the coca plant.
“This is a great opportunity to help inform and reshape Colombian agricultural systems which are currently restructuring. This work will directly support households out of poverty and engage in income-generating technologies that will allow Colombian agriculture to finally sustain itself.”
Professor Andrew Barnes, SRUC’s Land Economy Research department
But this is not without its challenges. The famers face the issue of trying to get new crops to the market over difficult terrain with less accessible roads. The established relationship that the farmers have with cocaine dealers who come directly to their farms to collect the coca is still also an alluring option.
The Colombian government has put initiatives in place to support legal agriculture schemes with the aim of eradicating coca completely. This includes giving rural farmers training and support for alternative crop growing options as well as paying them a subsidy as a reward for not producing coca plants.
Prof Barnes’s project and research will work to support these incentives, which will include field work in Colombia. It will be carried out as a one-year pilot, but could be extended by a further two years if it proves successful.