On March 29, 2015, the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) launched the Day of the Landless. The commemoration, which marks APC’s founding anniversary, exhibits the land struggles of rural peoples in many countries and strengthens their resolve to assert their rights to land and life in a world run by neoliberal dictates.
The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) has supported this significant day and adopted the global action in its 4th General Assembly held October 2018 in Thailand. In last year’s global commemoration, PCFS highlighted how neoliberal globalization drives massive landgrabs through the financialization of land and agriculture and how this is aggravated by fascism and militarism. Once again, PCFS gives recognition to the landless rural peoples who are omitted and disenfranchised in today’s global narrative but persist in their struggles for land and life.
The global economy is dipping into recession as a global pandemic and overproduction in oil trigger the weaknesses of a globalized neoliberal economy, and the most vulnerable are the rural poor and landless. It is therefore imperative to shed light on the systematic oppression and neglect the landless people face in times of crises, and even in years of “continuous growth.”
I. Landlessness persists yet silenced
Landlessness, especially in the Global South, is a centuries’ old reality. Land monopoly has simply passed into the hands of corporations, foreign or local, or is co-managed with old landlords. Agrarian reform with land distribution had been proclaimed “dead” in the 70s, only to be revived again in the international agenda in 1996 through the efforts of peasant movements around the world. While 95 States recognized the “importance of establishing appropriate land reform to secure access to land” in the 2006 Declaration of the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, what was actually implemented was a “market-assisted land reform,” both a brainchild and a funded project of IMF-WB, which either sold the agricultural lands to the highest bidder or made the peasants pay for the land they till at “market price.”
Today, landlessness is exacerbated by corporate and foreign landgrabs – with at least 50 million hectares of agricultural land in transnational deals. While it is almost always predicated to catalyze achieving food security, less than 8% of deals are for local food consumption.Worse, a sizeable portion of these lands are directed at producing lucrative biofuels. So, over the decades, landlessness has not only persisted but is growing systematically. Land reform programs that foster free land distribution and are directed at social justice have been taken off all official negotiating tables and even the Sustainable Development Goals 2030. This is despite the fact that landlessness is the single biggest cause of extreme rural poverty and destitution.
Landlessness is common among the extreme poor. As of 2015, according to latest available data, 80% of the 736 million people in extreme poverty – subsisting on less than USD 1.90 a day – live in rural areas. Six out of ten are in sub-Saharan Africa, while three out of ten are in South Asia. Half of the world’s extreme poor can be found in just five countries: Bangladesh, India, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Nigeria – the most populous countries in their respective regions.
Aside from landgrabs carried out by governments, food corporations or investors, proxy wars and occupation also displace millions, especially in Africa and WANA. Of the record-high 41.3 million displaced peoples worldwide due to conflict and violence as of 2018, one out of every four had been newly displaced in that year alone. The top ten countries where these new displacements took place are from these regions, and half of the accounted figures are in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.
Disasters also aggravate landlessness, displacing 17.2 million in 2018. Of the top ten countries affected, the majority are in Asia, with 60% of the displaced located in the Philippines, China, and India. Often, landlessness is not resolved in the course of disaster recovery and rehabilitation.
II. Who are the landless peoples of the world?
In the context of people’s food sovereignty, landlessness is depriving rural peoples of the necessary means of production – their control over and access to agricultural productive resources – based on self-reliance and self-sufficiency in food production. Land rights are defined in the context of feudal landlords and transnational corporations monopolizing land, seed, and other natural resources including labor to generate super-profits.
Following this definition, landless peoples include the following:
- Agricultural workers
Having no land of their own to till, agricultural workers sell their labor to landlords and agribusinesses to earn income. Many of them are smallholder farmer families whose lands were grabbed to pave the way for industrial agriculture. The International Labor Organization estimates that 300 to 500 million out of the 1.1 billion people engaged in agriculture are waged agricultural workers. They also comprise two-thirds of the extreme poor in the world and have higher extreme poverty rates.
The plantation sector, in particular, is notorious for meager wages, job insecurity, and inhumane working conditions, on top of its environmental impacts due to monocropping practices and the usage of toxic chemical pesticides. Oil palm plantations are among the most contested globally, including in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, and Africa.
- Contract farmers
Public-private partnerships in agriculture gave rise to contract farming, wherein farmers lease their land and labor for industrial agriculture. Landlords and corporate entities take control of lands through exploitative contracts, with risks often falling on the shoulders of the contract farmer. It is a form of disguised landgrab, which eventually leads to the acquisition and expropriation of land from contract farmers. In Latin America, farmers opt to engage in contract farming to get a harvest share from agribusinesses instead of competing with their commercial production. However, contract farmers often earn very little in comparison with their corporate counterparts. Contract farming is also prevalent in Asia but is growing notably in Africa. More recently, China is using contract farming as one of the means to invest in Africa’s agriculture, as can be seen in the expansion of a subsidiary of the China Tobacco across Zimbabwe.
- Rural women and youth
A quarter of the world’s population are rural women, who produce half of the food grown in the world. Two out of five rural women are part of the agricultural labor force and are prone to violence and harassment due to gender-based discrimination. For instance, rural women in India are “invisibilized” and own only 13% of the country’s farmland although they make up more than a third of the agricultural workforce and share 60 to 75% of farming-related work across most regions. In Africa, widows are disinherited of land due to discriminatory social traditions.
On the other hand, 55% of the global youth population are rural youth. They are two to three times more likely to be unemployed than city dwellers. While they are more adept at adapting to technological advances, the extreme poverty in rural communities forces them into labor migration.
Both rural women and youth have limited access to land, property and basic services as well as opportunities like wage employment.
- Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous Peoples, while they comprise less than 5% of the global population, defend 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Around 2.5 billion people reside on indigenous lands, which make up around 20% of the Earth’s territory. Their resource-rich lands have become easy targets for agribusiness corporations. Customary, informal, and collective land rights of Indigenous Peoples are not respected, while their right to free, prior, and informed consent is often violated in the course of their forceful eviction. Displacement is more than the loss of their livelihood – it also intrudes upon their cultural practices and traditions, resulting in the loss of their identity.
Such is the case in Asia, where two thirds of the world’s Indigenous Peoples are located – around 260 million representing 2,000 distinct civilizations and languages. The Indonesian government approved the operations of oil palm plantations in West Kalimantan and Jambi provinces at the expense of Indigenous Ibans and Orang Rimba. Land disputes have also become deadlyfor Indigenous Peoples, especially in the Philippines, Colombia, and Brazil.
In India, half of the country’s lower-caste population is also landless. Dalits and Adivasis are denied land rights despite the 1955 caste-based discrimination ban. In the central and southern states of India, about 90% of the Dalits are agricultural workers.
- Other marginalized sectors
Fisherfolks, pastoralists, and other such rural peoples are also engaged in food production but are impeded by the grabbing of resources and corporatization of their industries.
Despite covering the majority of rural peoples in the Global South, landless peoples’ right to land has been absent in key national and international agendas. Most of the sectors enumerated above, especially the agricultural workers, have been dropped from the “official” definition of landlessness people experiencing the systematic oppression of having no right to land. These sectors are dislodged and disenfranchised by international institutions in the realm of “land reform.”
III. Land for the landless
A genuinely distributive land reform program that is directed at exacting social justice is the only way to end landlessness – and, in effect, extreme rural poverty. Agrarian reforms are only successful if it radically reduces inequality and is accompanied by community access to land, farm tools, and other necessary infrastructure.
People-led land occupations constitute a crucial form of assertion of land rights. The sugar farm workers in Negros, Philippines and campesinos in Cuyotenango, Guatemala have occupied disputed lands and established their communities on them. The Tamil women of Iranaitivu island, Sri Lanka, the women Dalits of Tamil Nadu and the Dalits in Gujarat and Bihar, India have done the same.
In West and Central Africa, rural communities have resisted the development of at least 27 industrial oil palm plantations by holding on to their territories, while Palestinians continue to plant olive trees over their rightful territory led by the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature (APN). About 100,000 women joined the Marchadas Margaridas in Brazil – the largest gathering of rural women in Latin America.
The landless peoples have acted by themselves to protest against neoliberal land reform programs and reclaim food sovereignty. This is leading to social unrest sweeping the Global South and is exacerbated by the ailing global economy. Neoliberal actors want the world to turn a blind eye to landlessness and the rural landless peoples, but the landless will always take a stand. Landless peoples of the world, we will rise!
Land rights are human rights!
Genuine Agrarian Reform now!
Stop the expansion of corporate plantations!
Reject neoliberal land reforms!
Defend land rights defenders!
People’s food sovereignty!
#WeAreLandless #LandlessPeoplesRise #NoLandNoLife #LandForTheLandless #DayOfTheLandless2020