Colombia, Nespresso to help farmers swap coca for coffee

Credit: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

BOGOTA, May 28 (Reuters) - A charitable initiative will help farmers in Colombia's southwestern mountains trade nearly 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of coca, the base ingredient in cocaine, for coffee, the growers' federation said on Tuesday, part of an effort to fight drug production.

The program, a partnership between the Colombian government, Nestle's NESN.S Nespresso and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, will initially fund substitution in the area of El Rosario, in Narino province.

Narino, which borders the Pacific Ocean and Ecuador, is a top coca-growing area.

The 1,000 families who are part of the effort will initially produce 500 60-kg bags of coffee from their land, all of which will be purchased by Nespresso, participants said at the launch of the program in Bogota.

"Families who before were tormented by illegal crops have here found a space to leave an illegal path and enter legality with a spectacular contractual agricultural framework where there is a buyer at a fixed and just price," Colombian President Ivan Duque said.

Colombia has long been ranked as the world's top producer of cocaine, and figures compiled by the United Nations for 2017 showed the largest potential output since the organization's record-keeping began, with production of the drug at 1,379 metric tons.

The government wants to destroy more than 200,000 hectares (494, 210 acres) of coca through voluntary substitution programs and forced eradication carried out by the military.

Nespresso will sell the project's coffee in capsules in more than 800 of the company's stores around the world, chief executive Jean-Marc Duvoisin said.

The company hopes the impact on farmers incomes will be "as positive as possible" Duvoisin said.

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation will spend $2 million on efforts to improve farms and the area's infrastructure, including a health center, a warehouse as well as water and road works.

Some coffee farmers battered by low international prices have begun to look to other crops, including coca, to provide alternative sources of income.

The federation has floated the idea of some producer countries untethering their output from the benchmark New York futures market in order to get a better price, a move analysts say would likely send buyers elsewhere.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Helen Murphy and Sandra Maler)

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