Coca farmers face uncertain future as Colombia nears peace deal

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Coca farmers face uncertain future as Colombia nears peace deal
The wrapped fingers of a raspachin, a worker who collects coca leaves, are seen during the harvest of the leaves on a small coca farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Raspachines, workers who collect coca leaves, harvest leaves at a small coca farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Coca farmers stand near police officers in Cano Lajas, in Guaviare province, Colombia, May 22, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Raspachines, workers who collect coca leaves, carry bags with harvested leaves to be processed into coca paste, on a coca farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Chicken, fish and eggs lie next to coca paste worth $14,000 Colombian pesos at a local store in Guyabero Region, Guaviare, Colombia, May 24, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Grocery products lie next to coca paste worth $18,000 Colombian pesos at a local store in Guyabero Region, Guaviare, Colombia, May 24, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Grocery products lie next to coca paste worth $110,000 Colombian pesos at a local store in Guyabero Region, Guaviare, Colombia, May 24, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Grocery products lie next to coca paste worth $32,000 Colombian pesos at a local store in Guyabero Region, Guaviare, Colombia, May 24, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Beverages lie next to coca paste worth $30,000 Colombian pesos at a local store in Guyabero Region, Guaviare, Colombia, May 24, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Canned goods lie next to coca paste worth $26,000 Colombian pesos at a local store in Guyabero Region, Guaviare, Colombia, May 24, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Crushed coca leaves mixed with chemicals soak in a barrel at a small farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A worker shows coca paste after drying it on a stove top at a small farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A worker dries coca paste on a stove top at a small farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A worker shows as the processed coca leaves settle as coca paste on the bottom of a plastic bottle, on a small farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A worker strains coca paste at a small farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A worker adds chemicals to the already processed coca leaves to make coca paste, on a small farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Cleaning products lie next to coca paste worth $18,000 Colombian pesos at a local store in Guyabero Region, Guaviare, Colombia, May 24, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Rice and vegetables lie next to coca paste worth $8,000 Colombian pesos at a local store in Guyabero Region, Guaviare, Colombia, May 24, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Vegetables lie next to coca paste worth $8,000 Colombian pesos at a local store in Guyabero Region, Guaviare, Colombia, May 24, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Farmers stand together to protect their coca fields after police arrived to eradicate the crops in Cano Lajas province, Guaviare, Colombia, May 22, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A police officer stands guard near a coca plantation in Cano Lajas, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 22, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Colombian police officers walk past farmers on their way to a coca plantation in Cano Lajas, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 22, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A worker sprays chemicals over crushed coca leaves as part of the process to make coca paste, on a small farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A worker walks over crushed coca leaves, mixed with chemicals, as part of the process to make coca paste, on a small farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Fumigation equipment is seen outside a shack at a small coca farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino SEARCH "COCA CURRENCY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
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(Reuters) - As Colombia nears a historic peace deal with the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the nation's authorities are struggling to tame an increase in farming of coca, the raw material used to make cocaine.

Leftist FARC rebels agreed in 2014 to break ties with drug traffickers, help eradicate illegal crops like coca and help fight the production of narcotics.

But authorities have accused the rebels of instead stoking resistance to the eradication of illicit coca crops and keeping up their ties to drug trafficking.

The latest United Nations figures showed a 44 percent increase in coca cultivations in 2014 to 69,000 hectares (170,503 acres) in the South American nation. The U.S. government estimates there were 159,000 hectares in 2015.

Many farmers, who according to the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime earn an average of $1,000 a year, are well aware of the harmful uses of their crops but say they have no other choice.

"The government does not want to resolve the huge problem we have here," said Orlando Castilla, president of the Farmers Association in the Guaviare region. "We appear to be rich, millionaires on a national and international level, but we have nothing to live off."

Ferin Oviedo, a representative of the Guayabero Regional Farmers' Association, said coca, unlike the government, helped provide the local residents with "a way of sustaining their families in every sense."

Even Colombian Defence Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, who has deployed some 7,000 soldiers to eradicate coca in the country, admits that the crop will probably increase until 2018.

That is, he added, "if things go well."

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