SANTA MARTA, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Colombia will cultivate 1 million hectares (3,861 square miles) of new farmland over the next three years in a bid to get away from costly imports and organize the agriculture sector ahead of a possible peace accord with Marxist rebels.
The program, valued at 1.6 trillion pesos ($522 million), will bolster cultivated land by 14 percent from 7.1 million hectares at present, Agriculture Minister Aurelio Iragorri said during the launch in Caribbean city of Santa Marta.
The plan comes as Latin America’s fourth-biggest economy is struggling to control inflation which has crept up close to 5 percent, a weakened peso, drought and a slowing economy. Inflation is above the 2 to 4 percent target range established by the central bank.
“Today we are importing 10 million tonnes of food products, much of which could be produced locally,” Iragorri said late on Thursday.
The bulk of land will be cultivated with corn, soy, barley and rice, he said.
Colombia is one of seven countries - along with Brazil, Angola, Argentina, Bolivia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo - that concentrate half of the world’s underused land mass, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
“The plan has future if it’s carried out together with such diverse issues like financing, land and macroeconomics,” Rafael Mejia, head of the Agriculture Society of Colombia, told Reuters.
Land reform was the first item on a five-point agenda at peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The two sides agreed on issues such as land use, infrastructure and incentives for agricultural development and food security.
“As the nation confronts the reality of peace, we have to find a way to prepare the rural Colombia,” said Iragorri. (Writing by Helen Murphy; Editing by Matthew Lewis)