Rural groups worldwide decry ‘landgrabbing’ policies on ‘Day of the Landless’ 2019

International and grassroots groups of rural peoples and advocates of food sovereignty are demanding a shift in global land policies, which they claim are facilitating largescale landgrabs worldwide.

The groups are holding various activities to highlight the rural people’s land struggles on March 29, which they proclaimed as the “Day of the Landless.” The Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP), and People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) are leading the global day of action under the theme“Reclaim Our Lands, Reclaim Our Future.” Solidarity actions are being organized in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Jordan, Palestine, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Zambia.

“Today,the rural peoples of the world especially in the Global South are rising against landlessness. It is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed in order to solve rural poverty, inequality and social injustice in rural communities,” said Chennaiah Poguri, chairperson of the APC, a coalition of progressive peasant groups in Asia.

March 29 marks the founding anniversary of the APC.

Sylvia Mallari, global co-chairperson of PCFS, an international movement of grassroots groups of small food producers and food sovereignty advocates, warned that the global land rush could worsen in the coming years “unless land policies veer away from corporate dictates.”

“The continued neoliberal restructuring of the world’s agriculture and food systems has only further concentrated lands and resources in the hands of a few, including the local elites and foreign corporate interests especially from the advanced capitalist countries,” Mallari said.

“In fact, international and development finance institutions pressure many countries to change their land laws and policies in order to ease the entry of and landgrabbing by local and foreign corporations,” she added.

PCFS cited the 2012 Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Law in Myanmar, which was amended last year to require indigenous peoples and small-scale farmers of land use permits over the lands they customarily own and till. Mallari said the law will make a massive number of Burmese rural peoples landless, subjecting the lands for lease to private entities. They are now at risk of being penalized or jailed since the six-month registration period lapsed last March11.

Meanwhile,for the regional advocacy group PANAP, landgrabbing is a blatant violation of the rural people’s collective rights to land and resources as well as their rights to development and self-determination. This inspired the “No Land, No Life!” campaign that PANAP and the APC launched on March 29, 2015 which was also the inaugural commemoration of the Day of the Landless.

“In launching the Day of the Landless, we wanted to have something that would create unity in the region and hopefully reach the global level,” said Sarojeni Rengam, executive director of PANAP.

“We wanted to have… impact in terms of increasing awareness and understanding and of concretizing the broadest sector of communities to support the struggles of the peasants and their call for land,” she added.

The PANAP official stressed that while landgrabbers claim that they bring development to communities through their projects and investments, these are often carried out without the local people’s knowledge, much less their consent.

Meanwhile, in West Asia and North Africa, the rural peoples are made more vulnerable by famine and wars, PCFS noted. “Militarism aggravates their landlessness,” said Razan Zuayter, PCFS global co-chairperson based in Jordan.

Zuayter cited the crisis-level hunger in Yemen, where 80 percent of the population need humanitarian assistance, and the rising death toll of the Palestinian people due to the US-backed Israeli occupation a year after the Great Return March that began March 30, 2018.

According to PANAP, human rights violations in relation to land conflicts are high in Asia, Africa, and Latin America where landgrabbing is also rampant, based on their documentation.

“Local struggles against the corporate takeover of lands and resources are being criminalized. Land activists, who are often community leaders, are being charged for leading local protests. Several were actually killed,” said PANAP’s Rengam said.

Mallari shared that recently in Sierra Leone, Africa, the military jailed 15 members of the Malen Affected Land Owners and Users Association (MALOA) after raiding Sahn Malen in the Pujenhun district. MALOA has been objecting the landgrabbing of oil palm plantation Socfin Agricultural Company, which has already displaced around 2,500 villagers.

But despite the many challenges, the groups emphasized that rural communities worldwide are fighting back and reclaiming their lands.

“Food sovereignty is in action through land occupation and collective cultivation campaigns taking place in many countries despite of the increasingly repressive environment in the rural areas,” Mallari pointed out.

APC’s Poguri stressed that “repression cannot and will not abate our fervor in the struggle for our land and rights. Genuine development can only be achieved through land distribution to the communities and genuine agrarian reform.”

“The Day of the Landless is our day. Landlessness will continue as long as neoliberal policies shape our agriculture and food systems. We have to strengthen our struggles and forward food sovereignty and people’s democracy as the alternative,” Poguri said. ###

Chennaiah Poguri, APC chairperson –
Sylvia Mallari & Razan Zuayter, PCFS global co-chairpersons – Sarojeni Rengam, PANAP executive director –  

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