Representatives of Colombian farmers’ groups and government ministers say they have not yet been able to reach a deal to end a 10-day strike. The two sides will reconvene on today (Wednesday) after they failed to reach agreement after nine hours of talks.
The demonstrators accuse the government of running the agricultural sector into the ground.
Colombia’s Agriculture Minister Francisco Estupinan and Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo flew to the city of Tunja to meet representatives of protesters from three strike hotspots on Tuesday.
On the agenda are the high cost of fertilizers and other key farming materials, and how farmers are being undercut by cheaper imports and agricultural products being smuggled across the border from neighbouring Venezuela and Ecuador.
The government had hoped agreement on enough issues could be reached by the end of Tuesday for the protesters to lift the roadblocks which have caused traffic chaos in many parts of the country.
Eleven major highways are still barricaded and the central province of Boyaca remains cut off.
The protests started more than a week ago and have been joined by hundreds of thousands of people from a wide variety of groups including livestock farmers, dairy producers and coffee, rice and potato growers.
The majority are small-scale farmers who say the government’s agricultural and trade policies are driving them into bankruptcy.
They say that free trade agreements with the European Union and the United States, which have recently come into force, are flooding the market with agricultural products at prices they are unable to match.
They also complain that rising fuel and production costs have turned small-scale farming into a loss-making business.
President Juan Manuel Santos said his government would discuss a number of measures aimed at easing the pressure on farmers, including easier access to loans, lowering the cost of fertilisers and boosting prices for their products.
The farmers have been backed by some student and trade union groups which have held demonstrations in the capital Bogota and the city of Cali to show their support.