World Bank land reform strategy disputed

18 June 2001

A new report from US campaign group Food First assesses the World Bank’s approach to land reform. It applauds the recognition by Bank economists that “extremely inequitable access to productive resources like land prevents economic growth”. However, Food First has “serious concerns” about the reliance on land privatisation and free market forces. These approaches are “fast bringing civil society into conflict with the Bank”.

The World Bank is taking the lead in promoting, and in some cases financing, comprehensive land tenure reforms in countries including South Africa, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Columbia, and Brazil, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and India. Concerns about the Bank’s approach include:

  • The privatisation of communal lands can cause the breakdown of community-based resource management systems, leading to accelerated land degradation.
  • Land titling, registries, and facilitation of land markets can induce mass sell-offs of land, causing increased landlessness, land concentration, and rural-urban migration.
  • Offering credit to landless farmers to buy land at market rates may lead to only the most marginal and most remote plots being sold and leave new landowners with heavy debts.

The report recommends instead “reform from below”, as exemplified by the Brazilian Landless Movement which has seized 15 million acres of land in recent years.

Tides Shift on Agrarian Reform: New Movements Show the Way is on Foodfirst’s website

See also Food First’s action suggestions , Or email Food First