On World Environment Day – Why do we regard an integral and popular agrarian reform as a matter of urgency?

Today peasants, indigenous peoples, farm workers, landless peasants, fisherfolk, consumers, women, and young people worldwide face difficult challenges. Increasingly, in the four corners of the planet, people are feeling the effect of the growing imposition of financial and market paradigms on every facet of their lives. Subjugation to the interests of capital has led to the acceleration of capitalist extractivism: including industrial farming, livestock, and fishing; large scale mining; megaprojects such as hydroelectric dams, large scale solar panel farms, tourism and large scale infrastructure – and to massive land grabbing and changes in land use. Increasingly, the control of common goods, which are essential to people’s lives and nature, are concentrated in the hands of a few private actors with easy access to capital, with disastrous effects on the people and their rights. Furthermore, the highly concentrated market conditions (of consumable goods and the commercialization of products) increasingly exclude small scale producers. Women and young people are by far the worst hit by these actions. The food, climate, environmental, economic, and democratic crises affecting humanity show that a transformation of the current agricultural and food model is vital.

In many places, the people who defend themselves against and resist this “development” model face being demonized and criminalized, which in turn leads to prosecutions, imprisonment, violence at the hands of the state or private security forces, and even murders. These are not random “incidents”; they are occurrences reported by almost every organization. States, therefore, are not only failing in their duty to protect the people from these outrages but also important actors in advancing this model.

These effects are not a “natural phenomenon” of globalization; there are the consequences of a political framework that responds to the paradigm of continuous growth: in our analysis we find, amongst others, increasing commercialization of land and water that favours grabbing; policies that favour the privatization of seas and continental waters; the privatization of seeds through patents and plant breeders’ rights, and agricultural and fishing policies that favour large scale production. These policies are reinforced within the framework of Free Trade Policies and Bilateral Investment Treaties.

The conceptual framework: what is an Integral and Popular Agrarian Reform?

But struggles on a local and global level have also grown stronger, and there is widespread resistance with many success stories. La Via Campesina’s actions as a transnational social movement, have made it possible, through exchanges of experiences between organizations and social movements, to strengthen struggles, to analyze these policies and their mechanisms more deeply and to develop collective visions and proposals.

On the one hand, the new context, the fact that capital is becoming more deeply rooted in the countryside, with a new alliance of national and international actors, and, on the other hand, the continuous exchange of experiences and dialogues among our collective knowledge (called diálogo de saberes), have led to a more profound analysis and to a broader vision of our proposals for agrarian reform. Both the “object” of agrarian reforms, and “who” needs to bring them about have changed.

Historically, the organizations’ proposal for agrarian reform referred particularly to land redistribution and access to productive resources such as credit, financing, support for the marketing of products, amongst others. Integral or genuine agrarian reform, however, is based on the defense and the reconstruction of territory as a whole, within the framework of Food Sovereignty. Broadening of the agrarian reform, from land to territory, also broadens the concept of the agrarian reform itself. Therefore, the contemporary proposal for integral agrarian reform not only guarantees the democratization of land but also considers diverse aspects that allow families to have a decent life. These include water, the seas, mangroves, and continental waters, seeds, biodiversity as a whole, as well as market regulation and the end of land grabbing. It also includes the strengthening of agroecological production as a form of production that is compatible with the cycles of nature and capable of halting climate change, maintaining biodiversity, and reducing contamination. 

In the areas where there is still an unequal distribution of land, people are fighting for redistribution based on the expropriation of large estates. Land tenure, depending on the territories, can be collective, individual, or co-operative. There is also the possibility of granting co-operatives and peasants the use rights to the land. In areas where the people do have access to land, the question is about defending their territories against land grabbing.

Furthermore, the vision of who needs to carry out the agrarian reform is changing. Until the year 2000, there was a broad consensus that democratically elected governments should be the prime actors carrying out the reforms. Nevertheless, the current processes, that have led to significant power imbalances, increasingly demonstrate that only a powerful popular movement that is both rural and urban can assure that such a process is carried out.

The analysis is also based on past agrarian reforms: both socialist and classical reforms have had their limitations. In many countries, classical reforms that were based on the common economic and political interests of peasants and sectors of urban industrial capital were carried out – the latter to restore productiveness to unproductive large estates and create an internal market for their industrialized products. With the changing of the agroindustrial model towards a transnationalized economy, which intensifies the use of common goods on a large scale, and where there is a growing alliance between transnational financial capital and the national elite, agrarian reform is no longer considered to be necessary in the eyes of capitalists. 

Based on this analysis, strategies are increasingly focused on carrying out an agrarian reform driven by social movements. Depending on the political context in which organizations act, most do not rule out intervention in public policies, but they reinforce strategies for change from the grassroots level: direct actions, such as occupying land, marches and protests and other forms of civil disobedience; the praxis for change, such as building production systems that are compatible with the cycles of nature, solidarity trade relations, and supportive social relations; the democratization of knowledge and social relations free of oppression, which aims to revert hierarchical, racist and patriarchal logic. Strategies include the promotion of a different kind of communication from that of the mass media and another research model to a land-based perspective. With the fight for Food Sovereignty, there is an increasing convergence of struggles seeking to achieve a correlation of forces that will allow them to move towards a political system that favours the common good.

 In this respect, it is evident that integral and popular agrarian reform is understood to be a process for the building of Food Sovereignty and dignity.

More: Publication: Struggles of La Via Campesina | For Agrarian Reform and the Defense of Life, Land and Territories