Land formalization -- The new magic bullet in counternarcotics? A case study of coca cultivation and tenure (in)formality from Colombia.

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Date: Jan. 2022
From: World Development(Vol. 149)
Publisher: Elsevier Science Publishers
Document Type: Article
Length: 485 words

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Abstract :

Keywords Land formalization; Tenure security; Rural credit; Counternarcotics; Illicit drugs; Colombia Highlights * We did not find evidence for the claim that land formalization reduces illicit crop cultivation by improving tenure security and access to credit. * Access to credit is not dependent upon having a formal land title, and bank loans do not make farmers less dependent on coca. * Farmers rely on informal and semiformal institutions for basic land tenure security, which allow them to invest despite not having formal titles. * Coca is not a short-term crop with small outlays; those without titles don't choose coca to minimize potential losses due to dispossession. * Tenure insecurity and lack of credit are not the main obstacles to legal agricultural ventures, which tend to fail due to other problems. * Formalizing land rights without addressing wider structural problems is unlikely to reduce illicit coca cultivation. Abstract Both policymakers and scholars have suggested that informal land tenure contributes to the perpetuation of illicit drug crop cultivation and, conversely, that land formalization programs serve counternarcotics aims. This article examines some of the key causal mechanisms said to underlie the posited relationship between land tenure (in)formality and the cultivation of crops used for illicit drug production. Our analysis is grounded in the context of Puerto Asís, Colombia -- one of the most important coca-producing municipalities in a country that produces the majority of the world's cocaine. The case study is based on extensive fieldwork in Puerto Asís, including in-depth interviews with peasants who cultivate(d) coca, community leaders and local officials. We found: (i) that informal and semiformal institutions provide a basic level of land tenure security for both those with and without state-recognized property titles; (ii) that peasants invest considerable amounts of money and labor in their farms and community infrastructures, despite lacking formal land titles; (iii) that coca cultivation itself is a comparatively costly investment, with eighteen months minimum before payback; (iv) that peasants' access to credit is not conditioned on them having a formal land title; (v) that bank loans do not make people less dependent on coca cultivation; and that (vi) farmers find it difficult to survive with legal livelihoods and thus permanently exit the coca economy for a long list of reasons, which are not addressed via land titling and registration programs. These findings are contrary to popular policy narratives. We conclude that formal titles are an important tool for Colombian peasant farmers to defend their land against powerful external actors but will not necessarily serve the purposes commonly presented in the literature on illicit drugs. Author Affiliation: (a) Department of Development Studies, SOAS -- University of London, UK (b) State University of New York at Albany, USA (c) Instituto de Estudios Políticos y Relaciones Internacionales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Colombia * Corresponding author. Article History: Accepted 21 August 2021 Byline: Frances Thomson [ft12@soas.ac.uk] (a,*), Monica Parada-Hernández [mparada@albany.edu] (b), Camilo Acero [caacerov@unal.edu.co] (c)

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A679876597