Statement to the World Summit on Sustainable Development Johannesburg, August 2002
Who is responsible for the environmental destruction?
The rural poor are often blamed for being responsible for environmental degradation processes. According to this view, they overuse their limited resources as a short-time survival strategy. For example, small farmers work often on marginal lands like on slopes or in dry-areas. Production in these marginal areas is likely to lead to soil erosion or desertification. In other cases, landless peasants are seen as the main responsible for deforestation since they move deeper into the forests seeking for agricultural land. Preparatory documents to the World Summit on Sustainable Development WSSD have adopted implicitly or explicitly this view. Blaming the poor for ecodestruction adds insult to injury since they are not the main culprits but the main victims of it. They are certainly responsible for part of the environmental degradation, but they are acting out of desperation. Since the landless rural poor are deprived of suitable agricultural land they are victims of violations of the fundamental human right to freedom from hunger. Had this violation not occured, the deprived people would not have to invade the forest, farm on steep slopes or overgraze fragile pastures.
Structural adjustment policies and their supporters bear the main responsability for the destruction of natural resources that has intensified in recent years. Trade liberalization, agricultural, mining and other sectoral and structural adjustment policies were designed to increase exports as the main engine for economic growth. In fact, these policies have exacerbated the intense exploitation of natural resources causing great environmental degradation. There is evidence that among agricultural activities it could be agribusiness (in particular large farms and ranches) and not the small plots of settlers, which are responsible for most of the environmental destruction. As the Brazilian case shows, the rates of deforestation in the Amazone vary with the macroeconomic fluctuations and are correlated to the invesment behaviour of financially strong actors. During the recession 1987-1991 the rate of deforestation decreased. With the economic reform (Plano Real) in 1994, which subsidized investments in ranching, the rate of deforestation strongly increased in 1995. Furthemore, the Brazilian federal states with the highest rates of deforestation are states dominated by big and medium farmers. Among the 9 states in the Amazone, Mato Grosso contributed 26% of total deforestation. In this state 84% of land consists of larger landholdings (over 1000 ha.). Rondonia, on the other hand, famous for the activities of small holders, contributed only 10%. Besides agriculture industrial projects like Grande Carajás led also to widespread deforestation in the context of charcoal based pig iron production and the related infrastructural activities: roads, cities, gigantic hydroelectric projects (like Tucurui). On the other hand, export promotion, import liberalization and the withdrawal of government support in the agricultural sector have benefited large-scale producers and have worsened access to productive resources, like land and credits, for the most marginalised rural groups. This means that large agricultural and mining projects have destroyed small holder farmland and the livelihoods of indigenous and peasants communities impoverishing them evenfurther.
What kind of access to land is being proposed?
It is a positive step to recognize that the rural poor are forced under certain circumstances to unsustainable agricultural practices because they lack adequate access to land and other productive resources. Nevertheless, the majority of WSSD documents misses the crucial point: How can the landless see fulfilled their human right to have access to land? Instead of answering this question documents like the "Common Platform on Access to Land" promoted by the Popular Coalition to Eradicate Hunger and Poverty limit the issue to the importance of secure land rights for the sustainable management of natural resources. This approach is promeblatic for two reasons: It tends to equate secure land rights with formal property rights. Land administration programs – including surveys, mapping, cadastres, registries and the granting of individual, alienable titles – like those promoted by the World Bank and other international aid agencies can in one sense meet the historic demands of farmers and indigenous communities for secure titles. On the other hand, given the strong tendency of global markets towards deregulation, privatization and functioning land markets that undercut the economic viability of small farmers, policies designed to strengthen property rights are likely to benefit mainly large agribusiness entrepreneurs and can induce mass sell-offs of land, causing increased landlessness, land concentration and rural-urban migration.
On the other hand, secure land tenure alone is insufficient to guarantee sustainable management of natural resources. If the issue has to be properly addressed, it has to broaden its focus dealing with related issues like the prevalent pattern of agricultural production based on large-scale farming and intensive use of pestizides and fertilizers. Moreover it is misleading trying to suggest that secure property rights are a strong incentive to invest in sustainable natural resources management. Indigenuos peoples have sustainably managed their ecosystems for generations without knowing formal property rights.
New forms of collaboration for sustainable development?
The Report of the UN Secretary General on Implementing Agenda 21 states the need to allow stakeholder participation in actual decision-making. The WSSD preparatory process claims to have raised the standards for participation by being more open and accessible to a broad range of non-state actors. Multi-stakeholder dialogues and other allegedly innovative participatory practices were introduced. Many WSSD documents also point to the need for new forms of collaboration among all stakeholders to effectively implement sustainable development policies.
Preparatory multi-stakeholder dialogues seem to have no influence in the WSSD outcomes. They are merely consultative and have been deaf to critical voices against current trade liberalization, agricultural, mining and other sectoral and structural adjustment policies.
In the framework of more effective alliances among stakeholders initiatives like the "Common Platform on Access to Land" count on the moral persuasion and financial conditions of international organizations to place land on national agendas. Such alliances are worthless for the rural poor since the engagement of intergovernmental organizations like the World Bank in land policies has not taken into account the demands of landless and small farmers organizations and has been often more damaging than helping in improving the access to land for the rural poor.
Market based approaches to land reform have proven to be unable to address the problem of unfair land distribution since market led land redistribution in oligopolistic environments is impossible. The impacts of World Bank’s land reform policies show that they are primarily useful in creating the conditions for functioning land markets that benefit mainly large-escale producers. Also negative is the fact that the World Bank’s land reform policies have fostered the governments’ tendency to withdraw services and to neglect their obligations to guarantee access to land through (self-)weakening policies. The market based land reform model is displacing necessary instruments to address highly unequal landownership like expropriation.
The land and agrarian reforms we demand!
We are struggling for new agrarian reforms that have human rights as their starting point and pursue an agriculture which
- gives peasants, women and men, control over the land, the seeds and the water, so that they can live in dignity;
- produces healthy food for all, free from genetic manipulation;
- is sustainable and preserves the means of subsistence for future generations;
- strengthens the rights of women peasants;guaranties food sovereignty;
- strengthens local rural communities.
In order to stop the ongoing destruction of natural resources we demand:
- a genuine land reform process that redistribute arable land within the agricultural frontier;
- programs of land redistribution by means of expropriation and forfeiture of quality land, in which the State assumes its responsibilities;
- a historic approach to land administration policies which effectively redress land claims of dispossessed peasants and indigenous communities;
- fully integrated policies of support for the small farm economy, which include macroeconomic aspects, secure land tenure, marketing, technical assistance, credit, , protection of national production, and sustainable production practices;
- explicit measures of redistribution of resources and compensatory measures to overcome the existing gender discrimination;
- decisive participation of peasants, women and men, rural workers, indigenous peoples and other popular sectors and their organizations in the planning, management and implementation of economic programs in general, and of rural development and agrarian reform programs in particular; the decision making process of these policies has to be transparent, democratic and monitorable;
- to stop market based land reform policies and structural adjustment policies proven to cause environmental damage and to rise poverty.