Colombia to spend $4.25 billion to buy land for poor farmers

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BOGOTA – Colombia’s leftist government will spend $4.25 billion to buy some 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of land for poor farmers or displaced people, as part of a bid to increase agricultural output and boost peace efforts, an official said.

The plan, which began last year and is set to end in 2026 when President Gustavo Petro leaves office, is part of Petro’s ambitious efforts to end Colombia’s six-decade conflict, which has killed more than 450,000 people. The conflict, which has involved rebels groups, the government, paramilitary organizations and crime gangs, originally began as a fight for land rights.

“We have a goal of 1.5 million hectares to benefit approximately 150,000 families, 10 hectares (24.7 acres) per family,” said Gerardo Vega, head of the National Land Agency, in an interview late on Thursday.

“With the commercial cost of the land, about 18 trillion pesos has been budgeted over four years,” he said, adding that some 100,000 hectares have already been given away and that the purchasing process is set to accelerate.

Petro had originally said his government would buy 3 million hectares, but the official goal is now half that.

The new owners of the land, located all around Colombia’s diverse terrain, will be encouraged to grow rice, corn, fruit and other crops, Vega said, and the government plans to ensure them access to other services.

Purchasing efforts can be slow, Vega added, as the government works to ensure the properties do not have displaced claimants who were forced to leave by armed groups.

Colombia’s government also redistributes land confiscated from criminals and rebel groups and is making a push to formalize ownership for farmers who have worked land for generations without formal deeds.

Some 1.3 million hectares have already been formalized, Vega said, and all the redistribution efforts should total about 7 million hectares by the end of Petro’s term.

“Land is a synonymous with peace,” he said. REUTERS

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