BOGOTA, (Reuters) – Violent armed groups are still forcing thousands of Colombian farmers to grow coca, but with the army regaining control of many rural areas, growers are increasingly turning to coffee for a living.
The switch to coffee from coca and the return of displaced farmers should lend Colombia, the world’s top producer of both high-quality Arabica beans and cocaine, a hand to boost bean output to 15 million sacks in 2015 and 18 million in 2020.
In the mountains of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in north Colombia, the coffee harvest of ex coca growers is seen helping the nation meet its 2011 output target of 9 million bags, and is also bringing peace of mind to farmers.
“I no longer get anxious about the army coming to fumigate the (coca) plantations. I feel glad that I’ve moved from illegal to legal (crops),” said farmer Daniel Suarez in a recent interview.
After more than a decade of a U.S.-backed security crackdown, Colombian forces have retaken large swathes of the country and expanded state presence in many parts although rebels and drug lords still wreak havoc in much of the nation.
That campaign has helped cut coca planting to 145,000 acres (59,000 hectares), a 13 percent drop from 2009. Instead of coca, farmers are growing crops such as cocoa, palm oil trees and bananas, as well as coffee, which is becoming increasingly popular because of high international prices.