Voices from the field

Voice from the field 1

Agrarian Reform, a response to the current pandemic

Jaime Amorim, Member of the National Coordinating Body of the Brazilian Landless Peoples’ Movement and the International Coordinating Committee of La Vía Campesina

Today the demands of historical struggles like Agrarian Reform have shown themselves to be urgent, current, and necessary. A broad, deep, and people-centered Agrarian Reform that definitively resolves the problem of concentrated land ownership is needed, leaving behind the historical evil of the latifundio (plantation economy) and its entire feudalistic power structure that continues in the service of agribusiness; an Agrarian Reform that ends the models of rural development based on exploitation and export-based agricultural monocultures.

The pandemic has demonstrated the fragility of the capitalist model of development, particularly its current conservative, neoliberal model, which destroys local economies and national sovereignty, attacks democracy and the democratic rule of law, promotes wars against nations, destroys public services, rapidly spreads to consume natural and mineral resources, and advances labor laws promoting precarity, all in the name of capitalist development, that converts anything and everything into commodities in the name of economic globalization. As a result, in times of pandemic, we have seen increases in unemployment, hunger, misery, and violence. In an interview with the newspaper Brasil de Fato, João Pedro Stédile, leader of the Brazilian Landless Peoples’ Movement (MST) states that “The Coronavirus pandemic is the most tragic expression of the current stage of capitalism and the civilizational crisis that we are currently experiencing.”

The realization of a broad and radical Agrarian Reform can be a contemporary and modern response to the multiple current world crises: political crisis, environmental crisis, ideological crisis, social crisis, and economic crisis, which is structural in nature and is no longer capable of resolving the problems it itself has created through its exploitation and capitalist accumulation. Nor is the capitalist economic structure capable of responding to the societal challenge of safeguarding the survival of the human species—human existence and the life of the planet itself are under threat. Agrarian Reform with agroecology is necessary for food sovereignty, and in order to leave behind dependence on The Market and the large-scale food distributors.

Voice from the field 2

Land grabbing, land justice and pastoralists

Lorenzo Cotula and Ced Hesse, IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development)

Over the past 15 years, changing commodity prices and skewed public policies fostered a surge in commercial investments across the natural resources sectors – including agriculture, mining and petroleum. Governments of different political stripes saw the wave of investments as an economic opportunity – to promote economic development, create jobs and generate public revenues. But the deals have also prompted public concerns about the development pathway and the types of investment being pursued, and how the costs and benefits were being distributed in practice.

A vast body of research has documented land conflict and dispossession in connection with agribusiness plantation projects and extractive industry operations. More recently, deal making slowed, partly as a result of changing commodity prices. But at the local level, the pressures continue to be felt, particularly in strategic hotspots where minerals, petroleum, fertile soils, freshwater and infrastructure are concentrated. Many abandoned projects left behind a legacy of disputes, and many governments continue to identify the natural resource sectors as a foundation for national development.

Wrongly perceived to be “empty”, or “idle”, pastoral lands have long been a key target for both governments and businesses. In Uganda’s Karamoja region, for example, mining operations have been impinging on pastoral lands.[[https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/02/03/how-can-we-survive-here/impact-mining-human-rights-karamoja-uganda]] While promised benefits in schooling, hospitals, jobs and water development fail to materialise, pastoralists are losing access to rangelands and mineral deposits and suffering water contamination. Mining also constrains herd mobility and excises key dry season resources. These developments undermine the functionality of pastoralism and its ability to support local livelihoods.

In such contexts, skewed laws often undermine the rights of pastoralists and facilitate dispossession. Although evidence shows that pastoral land use practices are resilient and sophisticated, pastoralists’ resource rights enjoy variable but often limited legal protection in practice – including in countries where legislation or even the constitution formally affirms local rights. For example, many land laws condition actual protection to proof of “productive use”, and skewed notions of productivity undermine pastoralists’ resource claims. Pastoralists’ lack of legal proof of land ownership often compounds the risk of dispossession.

We need policies that support, rather than undermine, pastoral systems, thereby advancing land justice and confronting land grabbing. While the specifics will inevitably depend on context, this often requires recognizing pastoralism as an economically and ecologically sound form of resource use; protecting pastoralists’ collective rights to land, water and grazing; and facilitating herd mobility where this provides the foundation of pastoral livelihoods.

Voice from the field 3

Rural women, grassroots feminism, and land rights

Maria Luisa Mendonça, Network for Social Justice and Human Rights, Brazil

From the perspective of women’s grassroots movements, defending basic rights to land and food is a constant struggle. Around the world, the expansion of agricultural production for export, controlled by large landowners and corporations, continually displaces rural communities. They are forced to leave their lands and means of subsistence, and become vulnerable to labour exploitation in large plantations or in urban centres, facing a condition of poverty and hunger. Monopoly over land and market speculation increases food prices, affecting low-income women disproportionately. The case of Brazil illustrates this situation, since it has one of the highest levels of land concentration in the world. Currently, there is an increasing re-concentration due to international financial speculation in rural land markets. This process increases monopoly over land and expands mono-cropping of commodities for export, causing environmental destruction and displacement of rural communities that produce the majority of food for internal markets.

In this context, the resistance of rural women is crucial to deal with the simultaneous economic, ecological and food crises. Women face specific challenges in times of crisis, since they usually take the main responsibility for social tasks in their households, such as providing food and healthcare. Therefore, neoliberal policies to cut governmental support for social programs and the increase in food prices mean an extra burden for working women. In addition, the displacement of rural communities forces women into the worst jobs on plantations and in urban areas.

Women’s rural movements that advocate for agrarian reform and common use of natural resources, including collective land rights, will be important. Women’s grassroots movements are promoting a new agricultural system based on local cooperatives and ecological food production. There are international human rights mechanisms but it also needs solidarity. Especially in Europe and in the United States there is a growing awareness in public opinion about the need to support small scale, local and ecological agriculture. In order to expand this movement internationally we need to increase solidarity between women’s organizations in the Global North and the Global South, as well as in urban and rural areas in support of affordable production of healthy food to benefit low-income women in rural and urban areas. We need strong alliances to transform our food system.

Abridged from Rural Women and Grassroots Feminism

Voice from the field 4

Farmworkers and the land

Rosalinda Guillén, Community to Community Development, US

As farmworkers, the value of what we bring to a community is blatantly waved aside. We’re invisible. Our contributions are invisible. That’s part of the capitalist culture in this country. We are like the dregs of slavery in this country. They’re holding onto that slave mentality to try to get value from the cheapest labor they can get. If they keep us landless, if we do not have the opportunity to root ourselves into the communities in the way we want, then it’s easy to get more value out of us with less investment in us. It’s as blunt as that. We need to look at farmworkers in this country owning land, where we can produce. That is the dynamic change we need in the food system. We all know Cesar Chavez talked about owning the means of production. I think a lot of farmworkers talk about that.

Farmworkers being a landless people in the United States leaves them in a much more vulnerable position, and in the US this is easily ignored. It doesn’t even come into a discussion on a policy level or a social level. And we can go all the way back to our land being taken from us in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. It’s a legacy of that conquest, and we’ve accepted it. We don’t talk about a way for us not to be landless. What would that look like? I went to the World Social Forum in Brazil and met with the leaders of the landless workers’ movement. We’ve had ongoing conversations since then, and they’ve come to visit us.

What we’ve learned from a recent visit and dialogues with the MST women leadership in São Paulo makes us confident that we are on the right path. Building a strong and bold base in the farmworker community is critical to transforming agriculture and land access in the US. We are constantly learning from the indigenous leadership of Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Continuing dialogues and strategic thinking with them will help create new ways of engaging with consumers, markets and the powerful agricultural lobby.

Other strategies like earning enough money to buy land just aren’t enough. The USDA has programs so that Latino farmworkers can own land. But you end up with maybe a few Latino farmers farming the conventional way. Latino farmworkers become Latino farmers who hire Latino farmworkers and exploit them. That’s wrong. That’s not what we want. We want to change the whole system. So what’s it going to take?

Edited and abridged from an interview with David Bacon in Land Justice: Re-Imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States.

Voices from the field 5

Alternatives and opportunities for land justice in Detroit

Malik Yakini, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, US

Communities are built on the land, and we—as human beings—get most of our food, fibres and materials from it. In our present society, to be without land ownership is to be without power. If we hope to create a society with any possibility for justice, then the question of power distribution and land access is primary. To continue to amass land in the hands of the same individuals is the antithesis of freedom, and it must be struggled against. Traditional capitalistic logic would have it that selling land to the highest-bidder and waiting for “trickle-down” impacts to occur is the only way for Detroit to move forward from its current economic struggles. However, there are many alternative and better ways to build economic resiliency and equity.

It is difficult to imagine how land justice could be reached in the United States, considering the history of land theft and dispossession. How can we have true justice without returning land to the indigenous people that European settlers took it from? How could we find a solution that brings true justice to the people of African descent whose ancestors were enslaved and brought to this land against their will? Finding true “justice”—steps that make amends for these historical acts—is essentially impossible within current realities. However, there are steps that could move us forward.

In cases where the courts can prove that the United States broke treaties or acted in duplicitous ways, I believe that land should be returned by the US government to Native Americans. I also support reparations for the African Americans who are descendants of those Africans that were enslaved on this land and did much of the labour that created the nation’s prosperity. Additionally, we must cease the confiscation of land owned by African American farmers. At the time of writing (2016), land is still being unfairly seized from local land-owners and government agents are complicit in the process. This must be investigated and stopped.

Additionally, I believe that community land trusts can be established to allow communities to exert their collective voice in what they want to see happen with land in their communities, and to play a role in decisions regarding green spaces, industrial projects, housing, or anything else that they, themselves, envision for the well-being of their communities. It is important to create policies that give the maximum number of people access to land, as opposed to policies that concentrate ownership in the hands of the few, and support for land trusts could play a role in this.

Finally, I believe that in order to create good analyses of land issues we must understand history. A real telling of the real history is important so that governments, non-profit organizations, and community organizations can have an understanding of how we’ve gotten to this point. To do this, we must continue lifting up stories of dispossession, disempowerment, resistance, and building power.

Edited and abridged from Land Justice: Re-Imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States.