Colombia reaches deal to buy land from cattle ranchers

Cows graze in a cane field where, according to an indigenous community, the community is freeing and recovering the land from monocultures, in Padilla, Colombia September 21, 2022. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/File Photo

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's government has reached a deal with cattle farmers to buy 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land, earmarked for poor rural farmers to push agrarian reform aimed at boosting food production and tackling poverty, the minister of agriculture said on Friday.

"We've reached total agreement, this is an historic act, the third component of the agrarian reform is beginning," Agriculture Minister Cecilia Lopez said in a statement, adding the deal will be signed next week by President Gustavo Petro, Colombia's first leftist leader.

The cost of the purchase and how it will be financed were not disclosed.

Petro is pushing agrarian reform to meet part of a peace agreement signed in 2016 between the then government and the now-demobilized FARC guerrilla group that ended the rebels' participation in Colombia's internal armed conflict, which has run for almost six decades and has left at least 450,000 dead.

Last month, Petro proposed changing the country's medium-term fiscal framework to take on internal debt of some 60 trillion pesos ($13 billion) to buy land and sell it to poor farmers affected by violence at below-market prices.

The deal comes amid a spate of land invasions, which the government has condemned.

Jose Felix Lafaurie, president of Colombia's Fedegan cattle ranchers association, said the deal was reached in less than a month.

"We've reached a great agreement that will bring a lot of tranquility to the rural sector," Lafaurie said, adding that the deal will help consolidate a rural middle class that will help respond to Colombia's food-based challenges.

The agrarian reform will also see titles for 600,000 hectares awarded to farmers, while another 125,000 hectares confiscate from accused drug traffickers will be rented, the agriculture minister added.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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