Thursday, April 07, 2016

Latin America's Land-Grab

Protect the Commons
For common ownership
Sergio Gómez, a consultant with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) regional office, in the Chilean capital of Santiago explained “The dynamics of the land market and the concentration of land ownership and land-grabbing by foreign interests had gotten out of control… if these things are not kept within reasonable limits, food security is jeopardized… The land tenure situation today is unprecedented, because it is happening at a very particular moment, when the food crisis that applies heavy pressure to natural resources is compounded by an energy crisis and a financial crisis. All of this leads to unprecedented pressure with regard to the land question.”

According to a FAO studied carried out in 17 countries in this region, land-grabbing has increased significantly since the turn of the century. In this region, the concentration of land ownership and land-grabbing are at their strongest in Argentina and Brazil, followed by the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Nicaragua and Uruguay. These problems are at a mid- to high level of intensity in Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru.

In Guatemala the land issue, fraught with conflict and inequality, is a major problem in that Central American country of 15.8 million people, where nearly 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 42 percent are indigenous. In rural areas in Guatemala, the poverty rate climbs to 75 percent, and six out of 10 people living in poverty are considered extremely poor. In terms of land ownership, two percent of farmers own 57 percent of the land, while 92 percent own just 22 percent.

In Colombia, meanwhile, land questions are at the heart of the armed conflict that has shaken the country for over half a century, and resolving this problem is essential to achieving peace. An estimated 6.6 million hectares – roughly 15 percent of Colombia’s farmland – were stolen or abandoned when the families were forcibly displaced since the early 1990s. Today, 77 percent of the land in the conflict-torn country of 48 million people is in the hands of 13 percent of owners, while just 3.6 percent own a full 30 percent of the land.

In Chile’s, southern region of La Araucanía, the Mapuche indigenous people have long been fighting for their right to land. In the Southern Cone country of 17.6 million people, forestry companies own 2.8 million hectares of land, with just two corporations owning 1.8 million hectares. José Aylwin, co-director of the Citizen Observatory, a Chilean NGO, told IPS that  the context surrounding the conflict in southern Chile “is that of a people who lived and owned that land and the natural resources, and a state and private interests that came in later and stripped the Mapuche people of a large part of their territory.”

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