In this paper, we study whether leadership and community organisation can explain differences in the presence and expansion of coca crops in rural Afro-Colombian collective territories. Following a mixed-method approach that combines the analysis of satellite imagery, semi-structured interviews and household surveys, our results suggest that leadership and community organisation help explain differences in the presence of illegal coca crops by activating pre-existing ‘stocks’ of social capital that enable rural Afro-Colombian communities in the country's southern Pacific region to resist the penetration and/or expansion of illegal coca crops. Results also show that resistance is more effective when the interests and strategies of leadership and communities are aligned. We argue that the effectiveness and sustainability of resistance depend on: (a) the stock of social capital that determines organisational capabilities, (b) the specific normative content with which this capital is infused, (c) the legitimacy and influence of leadership on the community, and (d) synergies among different levels of grass-root community organisation. We conclude that investing in social capital and community capabilities is thus one way to reorient policy interventions, a goal to which the Colombian state can only partially contribute given its policy priorities and structural limitations.
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