Rising Coca Production and USAID/Colombia: Responding with Rapid Iterative Learning
The astonishing increase in coca leaf cultivation in Colombia over the past 3 years, coinciding with the historic peace agreement between the government and guerrilla forces to end 50 years of conflict, has put significant pressure on the Colombian and U.S. governments to address the issue and show quick results. As pressure mounts to address coca cultivation, both governments must balance their resources and responses to not detract from critical peace implementation efforts. USAID asked its support project, EVAL (Evaluation and Analysis for Learning), to lead a series of CLA sessions, carried out with a short turnaround and adaptive format, which compiled and synthesized the results of recent evaluations, assessments and expert opinion, and engaged technical officers and implementers in dialogue. The sessions, organized in a modality we have termed rapid iterative learning, provided a solid evidence base of analysis of alternative development and the coca economy, as well as an opportunity to reflect and formulate responses, which can serve as building blocks for future action. The Mission now has a renewed sense of urgency surrounding the issue of coca cultivation, drawing on open and direct discussions during these “deep dive” sessions. The hard news of the depth of the development challenges presented in the evidence-based discussions has alerted actors that they will need truly novel approaches to engage and provide incentives to the target populations. The results of our iterative workshops have also captured the attention of technical officers to focus additional resources on realistic program objectives. The sessions have contributed to a sense of urgency to harmonize broader, cross-embassy efforts and feed into the deliberations of a new interagency task force charged with developing a unified strategy to coordinate activities encompassing rural development, coca substitution, security, eradication, narcotics control and seizures, and social development.