Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Taking land from the Mafia. But to give to whom?

This is an article from a few months ago, written by the legislative team of Wilson Arias, a representative in Colombia's Congress. I'm translating it to English, because I think it's important.

Quitarle la tierra a la mafia. ¿Pero para dársela a quién?

The question is relevant, if we keep in mind the pronouncements of private companies interested in agribusiness and the recommendations of the International Financial Institutions [the World Bank, the IMF, etc.].

Both groups have requested the flexibilization of the land market. They have also demanded a series of measures such as the elimination of the Agricultural Family Unit (AFU) that an agribusiness entrepreneur can buy, and the right to purchase virgin land. The government, for its part, has announced steps in this direction. [In Colombia, the AFU defines the amount of land considered necessary for subsistence in a given zone. Depending on the ecosystem and the type of agriculture practiced, this AFU can vary from about two acres in dense polyculture zones, to 100 or more acres in ranching areas. Apparently there are laws to limit large agribusiness projects to a certain number of AFUs, so as not to monopolize land and prevent other farmers from buying]

Aside from asking for new incentives, national and foreign businessmen have criticized the "inflexibility" of Colombian landholding laws, because businesses are not allowed to possess more than 900 AFUs to implement a project. In the document "Competitivity of the agricultural sector in the country", they affirm that such laws increase transaction costs, because they must look for alternatives such as creating multiple businesses under one umbrella.

The concept of the AFU and the limitation of sales of virgin land respond to fundamental national priorities, such as "to reform the agrarian social structure so as to eliminate and prevent the unequal concentration of land or its inefficient division, and to provide land to peasants with few resources", as well as "to regulate the occupation and use of the nation's virgin lands, giving preference in their allotment to peasants with few resources" (from the document "National System of Agrarian Reform and Peasant Rural Development".) And it is the very Constitution of Colombia that stipulates that "it is the duty of the State to promote progressive access to land ownership for agricultural workers, individually or collectively, and to services of education, health, housing, social security, recreation, credit, communications, commercialization of produce, technical and business assistance, with the aim of improving the income and the quality of life of the peasantry" (Article 64).

But the International Financial Institutions have spoken, and loudly. The World Bank has been demanding certain preparatory measures prior to the signing of a Free Trade Agreement with the USA: "The signing of the FTA with the United States makes it urgent to call the attention of public policy to the rural economy, because the conditions of competitivity will change drastically. The commercial opening [of Colombia] in the 1990s was only partial and incoherent...". Regarding the land market, the World Bank demands public works projects, a reordering of public expenditure "towards the provision of rural public goods", and above all that incentives are given to the most competitive products and producers. The Bank also calls for formalizing land title and "its mobility", so that land can go to "more efficient users" [sic]. "The efficient functioning of the land market is essential for this purpose".

For its part, the agenda of President Juan Manuel Santos's government has established that "farmers and peasants will be allowed to define the amount of land necessary for their crops, without the bureaucratic limitation of the AFU". And a plan has been announced to take land from the Mafia and from unproductive latifundia [huge mega-estates], give it to peasants and the displaced, and formalize and flexibilize the land market. All this at the behest of the International Financial Institutions, who are interested in this flexibilization, because a Free Trade Agreement would give them the same rights as Colombian nationals.

No comments:

Post a Comment