Land Grabbing Has Serious Repercussions in Latin America

By Gaudin, Andres | NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, January 20, 2012 | Go to article overview

Land Grabbing Has Serious Repercussions in Latin America


Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs


A UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study, "Reflexiones sobre la Dinamica Reciente del Mercado de la Tierra en America Latina y El Caribe," released in late-November 2011, warned of the accelerated process of foreignization and concentration of land in 17 Latin America and Caribbean countries and said that the phenomenon has serious social and environmental consequences.

The study focused on 10 South American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay), especially the four South American Common Market (MERCOSUR) countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay), which are among the world's largest food producers.

Another FAO study presented at the Climate Change Conference (COP17) in Durban, South Africa, on Nov. 28 said that 25% of the world's arable lands "are highly degraded."

Two private organizations later picked up on the same issue. On Dec. 14, the International Land Coalition (ILC) gave a new twist to the UN agency's studies, saying that in land purchases "the national elites play a much larger role than foreign investors."

Two days later, GRAIN, which describes itself as "a small international nonprofit organization that works to support small farmers and social movements," said land foreignization is leading to "land grabbing," defined as the process of purchasing land intended for food production in which, besides private investors, foreign governments participate (it mentions China, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea).

Martine Dirven, an FAO specialist in rural development in South America, says the 17 countries that were analyzed experience processes of land concentration and foreignization, with a marked expansion of those processes in Brazil and Argentina. The Belgian-born expert warned that "we are facing a new and aggressive wave of foreignization that has led, for example, to a sevenfold increase in the price of land in Uruguay in the last 10 years."

Foreignization uproots rural families

The most serious effect for the four MERCOSUR countries is the marked reduction in the number of small family farms, meaning that, besides having to abandon production, the families are being uprooted, generally to the periphery of large cities.

Commenting on this reality, which formerly affected only rural workers, Fernando Eguren, director of the Centro Peruano de Estudios Sociales (CEPES), who presented the FAO study, said, "Land concentration in a few hands is not only an economic phenomenon, it is also a concentration of influence, of political power in the territorial areas where this is happening, which also has to do with restrictions on democracy."

In line with ILC definitions, Eguren said that in the Andean region of South America, land concentration is led by local investors, sometimes with foreign participation, but basically it is an internal national dynamic of property concentration for export-oriented agriculture, which is ignoring concerns for food security and the development of family farms.

Besides warning regional governments that they must "find ways to ensure that the processes of concentration and foreign ownership of land do not have a negative impact on food security, agricultural employment, and the development of family farming," the FAO warned about government policies that offer economic incentives to encourage specific productive activities, which, "definitively, mean transferring public resources to private third parties and facilitating concentration."

The FAO used the example of policies to promote investments in irrigation in Peru, the irrigation-promotion law in Chile, the stimulus for forest development in Chile and Uruguay, promotion of agriculture and forestry export in several countries in the region, and incentives aimed at promoting crops tied to renewable energy (biofuels).

The FAO study analyzed the evolution of land ownership and its concentration since the 1970s, which allowed it to compare early attempts at agrarian reform in those years--when concentration of land ownership was considered an obstacle to modernizing agriculture--with the present in which monopolization is considered an indispensible requirement for modernization and growth. …

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