Colombia's program to eradicate coca - the raw material of cocaine - is a failure and the money would be better spent on efforts to alleviate rural poverty, the governor of the southwestern province of Nariño said here Friday.

Raul Delgado offered that appraisal at an event in Tumaco where Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon had just finished presenting the Colombian government's new strategy to eliminate illegal crops.

"I am governor of the province that represents 27 percent of coca cultivation at the national level - four of our municipalities figure among the 10 where the most coca fields exist - but also of the province that has been most sprayed, fumigated," Delgado told Pinzon.

The fumigation consists of aerial spraying of glyphosate, a powerful herbicide sold in the United States under the Round-Up brand.

Residents of areas subjected to fumigation complain that glyphosate destroys legal crops and causes health problems in people and livestock.

"In the last 10 years more than 390,000 hectares (962,962 acres) of this province have been fumigated, added to another 113,000 hectares eradicated manually," Nariño's top elected official said.

Yet the coca fields remain, Delgado said, while Nariño has a homicide rate of 180 murders per 100,000 inhabitants and is one of the provinces "most affected by the armed conflict" among the security forces, leftist guerrillas and right-wing militias.

The governor expressed appreciation for the new strategy announced by Pinzon, which calls for incorporating eradication and interdiction into a comprehensive approach that includes social programs for peasants.

"I say with all respect, I believe the revision must be much more profound than what was just announced," Delgado said, faulting the continued focus on coca eradication.

"The indicators speak of hectares (of coca) destroyed, but the indicators don't speak about the people or the families that are behind this problem," the governor said.

Addressing Pinzon, Delgado said: "Is the objective to destroy coca, eradicate coca, or is the objective to recover for the country ... territories, but above all, human beings, who deserve for the state to provide them with a second chance?" EFE