The Colombian government has signed an agreement with the United Nations to put in motion what’s said to be the most ambitious drug-fighting initiative.
The US$315 million deal will target rural districts where coca crop production has been the center of aggression between police authorities and agriculture sectors. Negotiators hope to shift the illicit crop production to a safer alternative, such as coffee and cacao.
"This historical agreement is a unique opportunity to turn the tide against Colombia's coca cultivation and help farmers embrace alternative development," Yury Fedotov, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said in a statement.
The U.N. reported that 2016 saw an increase of 52 percent in coca production, expanding 360,773 acres.
"Reduction of coca crop areas is not an easy task in terms of administrative or logistical procedures," Rafael Pardo Rueda, a Colombian labor minister and special post-conflict envoy, told AFP.
U.N. officials claim the agreement will offer solutions to farmers involved in the illicit crop industry who have been under extreme pressure from police, suffering fatalities and hundreds of injuries at the hands of riot-police over the past month.
Thousands have participated in marches and protests across Colombia, protesting against the forced eradication of crops by police, among other social issues.
Earlier this week, nearly 1,500 coca growers mobilized along the main roads in the department of Santander, demanding the central government respond to their requests to stop the violent and continual eradications of their crops and comply with the peace accords President Juan Manuel Santos signed with the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
The indefinite protest has united hundreds of thousands of social and human rights organizations with coca farmers and Indigenous communities demanding authorities accelerate the murder investigations of dozens of social leaders as well as observe the peace agreement.