Four Laws for the Poor in Thailand
Posting a picture of four fingers from the back of a hand on social media is a sign of solidarity with the Four Laws for the Poor campaign. The campaign began in 2008 in response to the continuing concentration of land in Thailand. According to 2014 data, 62% of private land in the country is owned by just 10% of the population. The largest land holding by a single individual is 631,263 rai (101,000 hectares).While nearly 750,000 rural families possess no land at all, 70% of privately owned land is idle land .
The Four Laws for the Poor campaign seeks to address disparities in land ownership and challenges faced by marginalized peoples regarding access to land. The key goals of the campaign are to have four bills proposed by social movements made into law and implemented, in order to address the long-standing land and justice issues. The campaign is mobilizing public support through social media and public events. According to the Thai constitution, citizens have the right to submit a bill for consideration by the parliament and enacted into law if backed at least 50,000 signatures.
The four bills proposed are:
1. Progressive land tax bill — the bill will impose different tax rates on land–particularly high taxes on idle land– to encourage efficient land use and avoid land concentration. Those who own a lot of land will be induced to use or sell excess land to avoid tax burden.
2. Public land bank bill — The public land bank will enable access to land to landless individuals and peasants through rent or purchase at low rates for livelihood and habitation. Portions of funds collected through progressive taxation and other financial supports from the state will be used to operate the public land bank. The land bank will also serve as a community fund for collective ownership and management of land and natural resources.
3. Community land and natural resource management rights bill — the bill will provide legal recognition of collective rights to land and natural resources in both management and ownership. The bill will also establish legal infrastructure for communities to file class action suits against state and non-state actors, and determine the roles-responsibilities of the state to support the collective rights of communities.
4. Justice fund bill — Since the Thai state has declared that lands originally occupied and inhabited by rural people are now “forest reserves”, the number of people charged with encroaching on these lands has been increasing. This bill will establish a fund for providing financial support to individuals and communities facing such criminal charges. The fund will cover the costs of legal battles/processes such as bail, court fees, etc.
The four bills are clearly interconnected: they will address land inequality and respond to both, urgent and longer-term needs of rural peoples. The Four laws for Poor campaign is one of the biggest campaigns on land issues in Thailand, led and supported by various social movements, community based organizations and landless networks from different regions of the country.
Reclaim the Fields network in Europe
Reclaim the Fields (RtF) is a constellation of people and collective projects willing to reassume the control over food production. We are determined to create alternatives to capitalism through cooperative, collective, autonomous, real needs oriented, small scale production, thus putting theory into practice.
An important role of the RtF network is to link the local practical action of the various groups with global political struggles. One key topic we are working on is the question of getting access to land. Currently the network spreads across Europe and there is a variety of approaches included — collective farms, land occupations, protest camps, urban farming projects, anti-GMO activism, etc. Being connected in a European network allows these local initiatives to share ideas and experiences, gain more public attention in concerted actions and directly support each other.
Currently land grabbing processes–which are occurring in Europe, just as in other parts of the world–increasingly put land under control of the interests of capital accumulation. People and projects involved in RtF are putting up resistances against these land-grabbing practices in many different places and settings, and using different strategies. One well known example is the successful occupation and defence of agricultural land and forests in Notre-Dame de Landes. The planned construction of an Airport by the company Vinci could be prevented through determined resistance of local farmers and activists. Now many young people have moved to this area they call “La ZAD”, different collectives have started to revive the abandoned farms and are now growing food there.
The annual gathering of RtF, which was this year held in January in Nottingham, United Kingdom (UK) provided a platform for the activists to engage in theoretical debates and re-organise the thematic work in different working groups. For the coming year, plans were made to organise an RtF camp in the UK at the site of a newly planned mega-prison. RtF camps offer a program of workshops and are usually a place to spread the ideas to a wider audience and to support local struggles in the region. Additionally some RtF members are planning a trip to Greece to link up with different projects. These examples show that we consider it important to build alliances with other social movements, because in the attempt to (re-)gain control over our lives agriculture is just one–although very important–aspect among many.
You can find more information about the network and involved groups at www.reclaimedfields.org or get in touch by mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bukittinggi Paradigm: towards an agrarian revolution*
Agrarian and aquatic reform in the 21th Century must be struggles for justice that democratize agrarian structures and build new social, economic and political relations. They incorporate space, territory, water and biodiversity. To counter the destruction of several decades of neoliberalism, the new agrarian-aquatic reforms must be revolutionary and transformative, end land and resource concentration, and resist counter-agrarian reform. Elements of the vision include:
Food sovereignty:agrarian and aquatic reform must be founded on the principles of food sovereignty and have as its central pillar, the concept of territory. Food sovereignty demands secure access to and control over farmlands, seeds, breeds, forests, pastoral lands, migratory routes, fishing areas, water bodies, seas, coasts and eco-systems by peasants, fisher-folk, pastoralists, indigenous peoples and workers. It cannot be realized without land and resource sovereignty, and the rights of food producers to govern their territories-domains, including their customs, rules and agreements for protecting, using and sharing domains across geo-political boundaries.
Redistribution of power: expropriation and distribution of private lands that do not serve a social purpose to landless/land-poor families, the over-arching goal of redistribution is to redistribute power and alter power relations in favor of small-scale food producers, their organizations and movements. Such redistribution cannot be carried out through market mechanisms. Agrarian reform must balance the priorities of peasants, family farmers, fisher-folk, indigenous peoples, the landless, pastoralists and other rural communities, emphasizing the particular needs of women and youth.
The right to resources, territory and self-determination:agrarian and aquatic reforms must guarantee rural people secure access to and control over their lands and territories, restore pride of identity and the dignity of peasants, indigenous peoples, fisher-folk, pastoralists, workers and women. It must respect the rights of mother earth, the cosmovisions of different cultures, and local autonomy and governance with equal rights for women and men. Communities of food producers should be able to make decisions over the use, management and preservation of their lands, territories and resources, with priority to the rights of women, youth and historically marginalized groups.
Defense of land and territories: all possible measures–legal, regulatory and direct action–should be used to defend lands, water, territories, minerals and biodiversity from expropriations, capitalist enclosures, commodification and destruction. Land and territory must be defended as social/collective wealth, not simply as individual property while at the same time respecting and upholding the rights of mother earth. Land speculation must be prohibited, and state and private corporations must be prevented from acquiring large expanses of land. These include community/collective titles to prevent individual land parcels from entering the market, opposing market mechanisms in land governance, peoples’ counter-enclosures such as land occupations, and mobilizations in public spaces and fora to build popular support for our struggles.
Address poverty, unemployment, hunger and distress migration: agrarian reform must create enabling conditions for enhancing standards of living for the majorityand for reviving and rebuilding rural economies, including for example, public provision of good quality, affordable and accessible services in health, education, electricity, water and sanitation, transportation, recreation, credit, banks, markets, etc. It must reverse the distress migration of rural peoples, enable the reinsertion of peasants back on their lands and ensure futures for young people in the countryside.
Rural-urban land sovereignty: A new vision must address the reality of urban areas in relation to land, water, housing, food and essential services. The same forces of speculative capital that drive land grabbing in rural areas are behind the real estate speculation that cause mass evictions of the urban poor. A strong-rural-urban alliance to resist common enemies requires rebuilding inter-dependence between producers and consumers, and revisiting concepts of social, economic, political and environmental justice.
Models of production, distribution and consumption: should be non-exploitative, environmentally responsible and slow down climate change. Energy policy is especially important since land, forests, rivers, seas and sea-beds are being captured to feed high-energy industries and lifestyles. Production models should empower and enrich small-scale food producers, not force them into debt traps or value chains they have no control over. Production and distribution models should be based on food sovereignty and agro-ecology, and support the recovery of native seeds and breeds, water harvesting, locally generated renewable energy, revival of traditional foods and re-building local food systems.
Peace, justice and dignity: food sovereignty, agrarian reform and defense of land and territories are struggles for peace, justice, dignity and life. A new agrarian reform must mobilize forces to end state, military and corporate occupations of lands and territories, oppose war and militarization of our economic systems, and challenge the criminalization of our struggles.
The full Bukit Tinggi synthesis, including the steps to realize the “vision”, see Keeping Land Local, Chapter 9.
* The international meeting “Agrarian Reform and the Defense of Land and Territory in the 21st Century, the Challenge and Future” was organized by La Via Campesina and the Global Campaign on Agrarian Reform (GCAR) to discuss the global conjuncture and identify key elements of a common strategy for agrarian reform, food sovereignty and the defense of land and territories. Over 150 representatives from peasants, fisher folk, indigenous peoples, youth, workers, women, landless workers, human rights and research organizations participated in the meeting, which was held in Bukit Tinggi, West Sumatera, Indonesia from July 10th-13th 2012.