Researchers from Scotland’s Rural College have been awarded more than £122,000 for a project that will help the Colombian government in its war against cocaine farming.
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 Columbia.
Professor Andrew Barnes of SRUC’s Land Economy Research Department is involved in projects that help these farmers into clean and sustainable crop farming and developing heat-tolerance in bean varieties capable of replacing the coca plant.
But replacing the coca crop is not without its challenges.
The famers face the issue of trying to get bulkier new crops to the market over difficult terrain with less accessible roads.
Breaking the established relationship that the farmers have with cocaine dealers who come directly to their farms to collect the coca is also problematic to say the least.
The Columbian 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 input will include field work in Columbia.
It will be carried out as a one-year pilot, but could be extended by a further two years if it proves successful.
The project is to be funded 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.