Question: When you decided to take out the coca as part of this programme, what was your motivation to do so, why did you make the decision?
Answer: On the one hand, because we know that it’s illicit, and that we’re working breaking the law. So, if the government provides some sort of support, we’d get rid of it … because coca causes a lot of conflict and a lot of problems. So, we told ourselves that if the government offers us the means to get rid of it, or to grow cacao or palm because there’s no problems with these, then we would. But if the government doesn’t fulfil the agreement … all of us here in my village feel directly let down [by the government].
We met Yolanda* for the first time in December 2018 in a rural area of Tumaco. That same day, she recounted to us an unimaginable situation: it had already been a year since she eradicated her coca crops and she still hadn’t received the first food assistance payment. Since the arrival of the PNIS in the area, not a day has passed without Yolanda having to fight with officials about the lack of payments. In the different conversations we had concerning her situation, Yolanda repeats, “everything has been problematic with this programme.”
Question: When you found out about the substitution, did you think that it was going to change your life?
Answer: Yes of course. Well I said that it was going to change our situation, that in any case at least two or three of my kids would be able to get out of here … but they’ve all stayed here. You see the problem then, when you’re not paid?
Q. When you started to get rid of the coca, what were you hoping for?
A. We were hoping that the government would give us an opportunity to move forward in life, but the government didn’t fulfil [their promise].
Q. And now what are you waiting for?
A. Well now, I hope that it gives me the opportunity … that they pay me or resolve my case, basically, the opportunity for my kids to be able to leave and start the projects they want to do.
Like other participants in the PNIS, Yolanda has been suspended from the programme due to data issues with her SISBEN (The System of Identification of Social Programme Beneficiaries). Officials have also told her that there were inconsistencies in the checks that the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) conducted concerning the removal of her crops. “We’ve sent paperwork to Bogotá out of our own pockets, and nothing”.
Faced with the possibility of suspension, the programme’s officials recommended that various documents be sent as evidence, with the aim of resolving these inconsistencies. In Yolanda’s case, she had to send the coordinates and photos of her farm to prove that there were no longer any illicit crops. She also had to provide certificates from the board of the community council that would accredit her membership to the council and to the rural division. The cost of these procedures needed to sign the paperwork, including transportation, came out of their own pockets. Efforts which, after so many years, leave the situation unresolved. In fact, it’s the opposite: the last notification that others in a similar situation in the rural division received was that they had been expulsed from the programme.
The years go by and the failure to fulfil the agreement is becoming a reality. All this time, Yolanda has been waiting for payments and for the programme to fulfil its other commitments, notably the food security project and various short and long-term projects. This is why she wanted to make her own chicken coop, so that when the chickens from the food security project arrived, there would already be a place to keep them. Yolanda insists that,
“the programme has given me nothing directly, what I do have is because I set about building the chicken coop before the chickens arrived, but they’ve given nothing to me.”
Based on what Yolanda has told us, cacao can be a sustainable crop (depending on the price that it fetches). However, the deterioration of the soil quality of this land following the glyphosate fumigations has led to a bad cacao crop.
Q. Do you hope that this will change?
A. Of course, we hope that the situation changes, so that all my kids get the chance to make something out of their life. Not just one or two of them, but all of them.
Q. When you signed the agreement and got rid of your coca … after five years what were you hoping for? In other words, after all this time waiting what did you have in mind?
A. I was expecting to have palm trees, that I’d already be harvesting, that I’d be able to tell my kids, say one of them has gone to study in Cali, that I’d tell them I could send them money for their studies, I’d tell them go ahead because we’re alright with what we’re growing.
Yolanda continues to hope for better opportunities for her children, to enable them to move forward in life. Although the circumstances surrounding the breach in the agreement make an optimistic evaluation of the situation impossible, Yolanda reminds us, “we still dream of this, only after dying do you stop dreaming”.
*Name has been changed to protect anonymity.