Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | July 20, 2013

Small farmers after peace deal and after free trade.

A reader has asked: Do you think that small farmers returning to their land will have a chance to make a living after the free trade agreements Colombia has signed with the United States, Canada, Europe, and Mexico? Can Colombia develop economically in its current direction and still have a surviving small farming sector?

Displaced farmers returning to their land face mammoth problems before they’ve even planted their first crop. If there’s a peace agreement, the government has said demobilized FARC forces could become security guards for returning farmers. In many cases, this is putting the victimizers to guard and protect the victims, and will again place the farmers in the crossfire between FARC splinter groups, paramilitaries and the Armed Forces, the reason why many farmers abandoned their land in the first place.

The government has promised it will provide technical assistance and loans to returning farmers — a grand promise you can only hope will, indeed, be carried out.

After three years in office, there has not been much delivery of a first promise made at the beginning of Juan Manuel Santos’ mandate: there was the promise of a 10-year $55 billion investment plan for infrastructure.

Many in rural hamlets dream of this infrastructure just so they can get to work in the closest town or attend school across the river.

It is five times more expensive to transport a container from a Colombian port than from Hong Kong.

Cutting transport costs is crucial to boosting Colombia’s competitiveness. The Santos government created a new National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) aimed at attracting big foreign construction companies, but, according to the Economist, contractors are wary of taking on complex geological risks and arising climate change. Moreover, under the law, the compulsory purchase of land for infrastructure projects can be blocked for years by the courts, and there are fears of state employees who sign public contracts will be investigated by the procurador, or inspector general — who is currently a political opponent to the government.

Aside from security, technical assistance, loans, and infrastructure, small farmers will need co-ops, like the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros has done for coffee, or intermediaries in the business community that will find markets to place their products abroad.

An additional concern was the strength of the peso over the last couple of years. A strong peso makes Colombia less competitive on a global scale as its exports become more expensive in a global economy. But the peso has weakened as of lately, and that is unlikely to be an issue.

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