Bank land reforms contested

12 December 2000

A petition to the World Bank on market-based land reform has been prepared by Via Campesina (an international peasants movement) and FIAN (a human rights group). These organizations are working with the National Forum on Agrarian Reform in Brazil and grass roots groups in the Philippines and South Africa.

In the final declaration of the first “International Meeting of Landless Peasants” held in Honduras at the end of July 2000 delegates from 24 countries stated: “we reject the ideology that considers land only as a commodity. We observe with concern that the dominant agrarian policies, implemented within the framework of neo-liberalism, increasingly attempts to subject Agrarian Reform to the mechanics of the land market”.

The petition expresses “deep concern” about the land reform policies being promoted by the World Bank since the mid nineties. The “market-assisted land reform” provides beneficiaries a combination of grants and loans which they use to negotiate the purchase of land from willing sellers. This is supposed to be a more promising approach than using land reform agencies with powers of expropriation. The petition complains, however, that it “does not guarantee the realization of an integrated and comprehensive agrarian reform since market-led land redistribution in oligopolistic environments is impossible. By implementing this model the Bank is failing to realize its own Operational Directive on Poverty Reduction. This has been illustrated by the results of such programmes so far which have not fundamentally altered the patterns of land ownership”.

Specific problems with the programs include their failure to reach the poorest families, increases in land prices caused by the state credit supply (as in the Philippines) and the failure of the schemes to produce sufficient willing land sellers. Participation has also been inadequate: “as the Brazilian experience illustrates, the Bank bypassed landless and small farmers’ organizations at the national level” when drawing up its project.

The petition concludes by asking the Bank for a suspension of support to further market-assisted land reform programmes and a re-examination of the market-assisted land reform model through a participatory monitoring process.

On 1 December the World Bank announced approval of a $202.1 million loan for land reform in Brazil. It will operate across all northeastern states, and pilot the approach in Parana, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Minas Gerais, and Espirito Santo. The project claims it will help increase the incomes of about 50,000 poor rural and peri-urban families by boosting agricultural output.

Vilmar Schneider