Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday announced a new anti-drug plan involving the substitution of legal crops for the coca plantations that, according to U.N. figures, increased 44 percent in 2014 to cover 69,000 hectares (170,370 acres) of the Andean nation.

"With this program we hope to have a twofold result: reducing the illicit cultivation and improving the living conditions of hundreds of thousands of peasants," said Santos in a speech from Casa de Nariño

He said the plan will focus on eradication in the southern provinces of Putumayo and Nariño, "where there are some 26,000 families that produce coca," the raw material of cocaine.

With this new roadmap, the government is seeking to ramp up the fight against drugs after the disappearance of the herbicide glyphosate - sold in the United States as Roundup - starting Oct. 1 in a decision by the National Narcotics Council, which took into account the possible poisonous effects that accompany its use.

To that must be added the growth of coca cultivation in Colombia.

During 2014, the area cultivated in coca in Colombia grew by 44 percent and potential production of cocaine increased by 52 percent to 442 metric tons, breaking the stable trend that had been maintained in 2012-2013.

To handle this situation, the government will implement the crop substitution policy in Putumayo and Nariño, where "work will be done to construct roads, schools, health clinics, aqueducts and service networks," the president said, noting that the zones that have the most illicit cropland are those where the state has less of a presence.

Santos said that the government is seeking to reach agreements with the communities so that they eradicate their coca crops voluntarily and gradually, but "if an agreement is not reached, forced eradication will be resorted to."

"Financing (and) technical advice to launch other agricultural projects" that will be productive will be provided to peasants in the area, and if those legal crops are cultivated for five years, the farmers will receive legal title to the land.

Meanwhile, the government will continue pursuing "with all severity" the criminal bands devoted to the drug business, the president said, warning that the destruction of cocaine-production laboratories, the seizure of shipments and arrests will continue.

In addition, a state plan will be created to work on the prevention, treatment and reduction of risks and damage caused by drug use.

"We've already started. And if we can move forward now, imagine how much we could move forward if we do away with the conflict," said Santos, referring to the pre-agreement on eradicating illicit crops reached with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas, with whom the government has been engaged in peace talks since November 2012.

"We've already talked with the FARC about joint plans for the substitution of crops. Imagine what this means. That the FARC, instead of defending illicit crops and the entire drug trafficking chain, will help the state in their eradication. As the slogan says, with peace we will do more," the president said. EFE