The World Bank‘s policies for land privatization and concentration, have paved the way for corporations from Wall Street to Singapore to take upwards of 80 million hectares of land from rural communities across the world in the past few years, according to a press release from National Family Farm Coalition.
Giulia Franchi from the Italian-based Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank (Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale) said during a teleconference with reporters that the principles the bank is promoting, (RAI), is an attempt to justify and support transnational corporations’ attempts to grab farmland.
“It’s an attempt to make it look like a responsible deal, as something that can be done in a transparent way with the support of the local community, and something that will improve local communities. But there’s no way the expropriation of people’s land, however it’s done, can be a responsible deal.”
Franchi said corporations are using diversified financial vehicles such as pension funds, commercial banks, and investment banks, as well as foreign governments, to acquire millions of hectares of land worldwide for producing food and agrifuels for international export.
“This is all being done with the backing of international financial institutions, and most of all, of the World Bank.”
Franchi said the World Bank for decades has been promoting land concentration and privatization policies.
“It has been promoting land titling programs in many countries in the world, which has transformed customary and traditional land rights into titles which can be marketed, traded, and sold.”
As the World Bank presents the global takeover of farmland as the promotion of responsible agriculture, Via Campesina and its international allies are calling upon the bank to comply with the Extra Territorial Human Rights Obligations of States.
“The bank cannot continue to act in full impunity as it has up to now,” Franchi said.
Bob St. Peter directs Food For Maine’s Future and is a board member of the National Family Farm Coalition. He describes himself as a small-scale family farmer. He said he and his family rent, borrow, and lease about 4 acres of land for largely subsistence and small, direct-market production.
“Coming at this as a new farmer in the United States, and looking out to what’s about to happen over the next 20 years, there is set to be a very large transfer of productive farm land in this country. The older generation of farmers are set to retire and we have not been developing the farmers that are going to be able to replace them.”
St. Peter said many farmers are in debt and likely will sell their land and equipment to have some money as they retire and some money to leave to their children.
“We’re in the position now of having to stave off what is likely to be a very significant rush for farm land in this country. Those of us who would like to farm the land”are not in the position to purchase it at the prices that the older generation is going to need to get themselves out of debt to secure their retirement. There aren’t enough land trust or philanthropic dollars to make up the difference. So, what is likely to happen is there will be investment groups–and we’re starting to see this already—speculators as well as corporations purchasing these farm lands.”
St. Peter said this is going to exacerbate problems related to industrialized agriculture. He calls for not only low interest loans, but a transfer of wealth of some kind so new farmers have access to land without repeating the cycle of chronic debt where they have to depend on corporations just to stay in business.
“We don’t have a plan for that yet, but if we don’t stave off the farmland grab that is happening in other parts of the world, we’re likely to see that happen here.”
St. Peter calls for local food enthusiasts to look into the systemic issues involved with their cause.
“There’s been this change in the food industry. There’s been this political economy established to favor corporate agribusiness and that model has been replicated around the world. So the small-scale farmer —in Maine I am literally competing in my local community with cheap imported food from all over the world, produced in conditions we don’t generally support.”
He said people who are only focused on their local food system would be well served by looking deeper and wider.
“(They should look at) how the global food industry manipulates markets and uses international financial institutions and trade organizations to basically pit us against each other and undercut and undermine all of us. There’s a situation in Mexico, for example, of people being displaced from their land because of dumping. It also happens in our country, in our local communities. That’s why we have a local food movement in the first place. It’s because that’s been taken from us and we need to put it back. But we can’t do that without understanding both the solidarity aspects and the way the political economy works.”
Rafael Alegria, coordinator for Via Campesina for Central America said during the tele-press-conference that in Honduras and other countries in the region the re-concentration of the control of land under the auspices of the government, the transnational corporations, and the World Bank, has displaced small producers and family farmers.
“The situation in the countryside in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador is similar. It’s very grave poverty in the countryside but this does not only affect the countryside but also the urban areas.”
Alegria said the US used free trade agreements to dump many tons of rice on the Honduran market, making it impossible for local producers to sell at a reasonable price. (See Oxfam briefing paper, A Raw Deal For Rice Under DR-CAFTA)
He said this is causing serious agrarian and rural conflicts in Honduras.
“In the region of Bajo Aguan on the Atlantic coast of Honduras, large numbers of campesinos have been hurt and killed in conflicts with a large land owner named Miguel Facusse, who owns agribusiness firm Quimicas Dinant. This company has been in the sites of the World Bank. The World Bank has been trying to give them $30 million in loans. He and Reynaldo Canales—these two men in private industry—have taken over almost all of the arable land. They have displaced thousands of small producers and family farmers and replaced their diverse cultivation methods with monocultures of African palm for export.”
Facusse makes his fortunes by producing palm oil used for snack foods.
Alegria said, “We’ve been able to document that Mexican corporations and private interests from other neighboring countries, as well as the United States, have taken over large tracts of land in Honduras. That’s why on the April 17th Via Campesina decided to do an international struggle to highlight the problem of land grabbing.”
He said that on that date campesinos and small family farmers in Honduras decided to do a land reclamation.
“They reclaimed 12,500 hectares of publicly own land that is now being taken over by private corporations and private interests. But the government and private interests have been actively evicting farmers and farm workers from these land reclamations, and today (April 23) there was a predawn attack by private guards from the sugar company.”
As a result of the attack, the leader of Movimiento Campesino de San Manuel (MOCSAN) is hanging between life in death in a hospital in San Pedro Sula , said Alegria.
“The minister of agrarian reform and the minister of security and the Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa refused to talk with Via Campesina and the Honduran campesino movement. So, we declare that those government representatives are responsible for all of the bloodshed.”
Alegria said Via Campesina in Central America denounces the media campaign to defame his leadership and the leadership of all of the local and regional campesino movements in Honduras.
“We demand the World Bank stop promoting land grabbing being done by private interest. We call on the World Bank to support comprehensive land reform strategies like the one we put forward before the legislature of Honduras in October 2011.”
Alegria said there has been no legislative progress. He asked that food sovereignty activists around the world increase their solidarity with campesinos in Central America and all those who are struggling in Honduras. He said in the 1970s the Catholic Church was in solidarity with peasants fighting for land reform, but that more recently they have not received any kind of support from the official churches, either the Catholic, the Evangelical, or Protestant.
“We’ve only received support from the very small community-based churches from the Protestant and Evangelical side.”
Alegria said the land reclamations threaten monopoly capitalist’s interests in the northern areas of Honduras. He said powerful people in the banking industry and large landowners on the northern coast of Honduras have ties to the owners of the country’s newspapers , such as Diario del Tiempo.
“Those high level business interests and the owners of the main newspapers, Diario La Prensa and The Herald and Tiempo, they all work together. Their interests are entwined. This media campaign is one where they attempt to defame my character, painting me as if I were a terrorist. This is try to undermine my credibility with the people. They are very conservative business leaders who are really only interested in making profits and increasing their wealth but they don’t see the dire poverty of the family farmers, the campesinos, and farm workers in Honduras.”
He said large corporations want to control not only their land but also their forests, mining industry, and water.
“It’s really grave for our country. The large-scale foreign investment interests are pressuring the government and the government’s response is to put up for public auction all of our natural resources for sale to the highest bidder in order to cover both our internal and external debt. The external debt for a small country like Honduras is already is more than $4 billion and the internal debt is $50 billion.”