Classic land reform vs…
In the past, land reforms were won in numerous countries because large estates were seen as growth-inhibitors and unproductive. Landowners focused their efforts on high production and low investment and generally failed to use even half of the land they held. This was obviously unjust: a select few had vast swathes of underworked land while millions of families were deprived of any at all.
Class alliances were forged between peasant farmers and domestic industrial capital, a process that bolstered land reform. It meant that peasant farmers made corporate-held, unproductive land productive again and so contributed to domestic economic growth. These land reforms were fragmented and put peasant farmers’ interests above those of shepherds, forest peoples and other rural inhabitants. They were partial and inadequate reforms and, what is more, today’s conditions have rendered the alliances those reforms had once hinged on unviable. The reason is that financial capital is turning unproductive big farms into agribusiness and mining operations, which means there is longer a capitalist justification for land reforms as a means to achieve growth.
…Popular land reform
If classic land reform was inadequate and is no longer feasible, a new call must be launched: for “Popular Land Reform”. This would mean peasant farmers, indigenous peoples, shepherds, fishermen and other rural communities all striving for community control over land, where healthy food is produced in harmony with nature, harnessing agroecology and tapping into long-standing popular learning and practices.
This sort of land reform requires its own class alliances, though not with capitalist domestic sectors. Rather, the alliances must be forged between rural and urban communities. For that to happen, we must use environmentally sustainable production. We must show that community-run, food-conscious and environmentally-sound land use is better for society and Mother Earth than land use ruled by capital. Community-run land is a way to ensure lives with dignity, healthy food production, respect for natural resources like soil, water, forests and biodiversity. Moreover, it is a step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Vast monocrops, open-air mines, pesticides, GMOs, toxic waste, misery, migration and global warming are the hallmarks of land managed by capital.
West Africa caravan for land, water and seeds
Over 400 representatives from 15 African countries[[Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Benin joined the Caravan in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. Ghana joined in Bobo-Dioulasso in Burkina Faso. Côte d’Ivoire joined in Sikasso in Mali, Mauritania in Rosso north of Senegal, Guinea Conakry in Tambacounda (Senegal). Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Léone joined in Kaolack.]] took part in a Caravan that trekked and traversed three West African countries (Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal), challenging the large grabbing of peasant land, water and territories by international agribusinesses.
The caravan was first mooted at the 2014 African Social Forum in Dakar, to denounce land grabbing. This dialogue continued at World Social Forum in Tunis, in March 2015, leading to the creation of a Global Convergence of Land and Water Struggles[[In West Africa comprise more than 300 organizations and networks representing victims of land and water grabbing in rural, peri-urban and urban areas; evictees of popular districts; youth; women and; NGOs from 15 countries of ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union.]] by several organizations from 11 West African countries in June 2015.
The caravan sought to raise awareness and mobilize communities to advance the struggles for the right to food, land, water and peasant seeds and challenge decision on the commitments made by authorities in land and agricultural development by adhering to conventions, regional mechanisms and international guidelines.
Starting in Burkina Faso on the 3rd of March the caravan moved to Mali and ended in Dakar, Senegal on the 19th. During the 2,300km journey, over 17 days with about 3 stopovers per country, the caravan gathered farmers’ concerns, learnt about issues related to access to land, water and preservation of peasant seeds, and also met political and administrative leaders. Throughout the journey, the caravan witnessed several cases of violations of peasant rights, most involving land grabs facilitated by governments and driven by the Bretton Woods institutions.
Banners and placards aptly conveyed the messages “halt to the project jatropha, stops the silence and indifference of the authorities”, “food sovereignty = sovereignty of peoples”, “Earth, water and farmer s’ seed is my life”… “don’t touch my land, my land is my life”.
Ibrahim Coulibaly of ROPPA said, “Every day we come across peasants dispossessed of their lands. Local elected officials and heads of villages … making corrupt deals with agro industries and eventually prevent access of people to water, seeds. These projects are a death knell to our region”.
Land and water are common goods, not commodities and are our common heritage, should be secured, preserved and governed by each community for the common good of all. In West Africa, over 70% of the population depend on peasant agriculture that feeds about 80% of the region’s population. Secure access and control over land, water, forests, fisheries and seeds are therefore vital for communities and must be protected and enforced as rights.
On March 8th, rural women across West Africa also took a stand for their Land Rights. They lack adequate and secure access to land and financial support and are the first victims of land and related natural resources grabbing.
The caravan more importantly strengthened the building of a strong movement struggling for the peoples’ rights based on food sovereignty.
On the last day, in Dakar, the green book of the convergence, a synthesis that listed both the demands and proposals regarding land, water and seeds was handed over to the President of Senegal Macky Sall, Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Read more about the caravan here.
News on an emblematic fight for land: The Notre Dame des Landes ZAD
In Europe, the term “agrarian reform” is seldom used. It is true that some voices speak up regarding young people’s access to land, rights to use the land and collective rights in contrast to private property. Nevertheless, the strategy isn’t one of mass mobilizations by occupying land and demanding land redistribution, as in Brazil or Honduras. As such, those opposing the airport project at Notre Dame des Landes, a few miles from Nantes, in France, stand out. It is a true fight for land, one which goes much beyond the classic “not in my backyard”.
In 1974, a 1200 hectare area was delineated and named ZAD by those sustaining the airport project. For them is stood for “Deferred Construction Zone”[” Zone d’Aménagement Différé “]. At the same time, a protection association, involving farmers alarmed by the project was created. In 40 years, the project kept evolving. Today, the association is an international scale economic platform extending from Nantes to Saint-Nazaire. Those opposing the project replaced the acronym’s meaning to “Area to Protect”[” Zone À Défendre “]. Sixty residences (collectively occupied houses, cabins, trailers and other dwellings) have been brought to light and hundreds of hectares of land have been reclaimed from the private company in charge of the project. The land is now used for farming (market gardening plots, pastures, cereal crops, etc.). Today, ZAD is a place of several experiments, a place to learn to live together, to cultivate the land, to be more autonomous, and it is known across several countries in Europe. In France, there are many local support groups who are ready to mobilize in case of an impending eviction of the “zadistes”[Name given to the residents of the ZAD].
In the autumn of 2015, in spite of the appeal of the European Commission which states that no work must be undertaken before a satisfactory answer is given by France regarding the environmental compensation measures which will be taken, the French prime-minister once again stated his desire to complete the project. On the one hand, during the COP21, French diplomacy was priding itself on leading noteworthy negotiations in order to obtain a pledge from all the countries in the world to lower their CO2 emissions; on the other, it re-started eviction proceedings of the remaining inhabitants and farmers in the ZAD. Consequently, at the beginning of 2016, strong citizens’ movements took place in Nantes and in several other cities in France. The government therefore announced that a referendum will be held. It was soon renamed a “consultation” and was geographically limited to only one French department, Loire-Atlantique.
Currently, the Committee of the opposing parties (over 50 groups- associations, communities, unions and political movements) decrying this charade of a democracy, appealed to the citizens for them to massively attend the polls and vote NO in order to not give leeway to the project managers. Such a consultation cannot by itself legitimize a disastrous airport project which would damage nourishing lands and wetland areas of great biological richness.
In December 2015, about 40 peasants from La Via Campesina went to ZAD to give their support for this symbolic struggle for the land. We hope the consultation in the coming weeks is only one more step in this long fight to completely stop this useless cementing project; one more step so that in Europe, as everywhere else in the world, the awareness of the importance of the land in producing our food continues to spread.