World Bank, IMF and EBRD push for controversial land reform in Ukraine

12 December 2019

A November article on news site Common Dreams analysed a bill that became a draft land reform law in Ukraine’s parliament. The draft law, which lacks measures to ensure that land is not concentrated in the hands of wealthy landowners, or to prevent land purchases being backed by foreign corporations, passed its first reading in November despite protests outside parliament and the opposition of 73 per cent of the population.

The article highlighted that Ukraine has come under sustained pressure, including from the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), to end its 18-year moratorium on land sales, noting that, “In August 2019, the World Bank approved a US$200 million loan for the restructuring of the agricultural market and the auctioning of state lands.” The Bank’s privatisation agenda for Ukraine was outlined by its president David Malpass in a Financial Times article during his visit to the country in August. The reforms were also supported by a 2018 IMF loan to Ukraine, which the UN independent expert on foreign debt and human rights criticised for its privatisation agenda (see Observer Autumn 2018).

These developments highlight the inconsistency of the Bank’s approach, as the loan to Ukraine took place alongside some positive news about the much-criticised Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) report (see Observer Spring 2019). After years of advocacy, civil society noted that the recently released EBA 2019 report omits the land indicator, which is considered to promote privatisation and large-scale farming, and recognises customary land rights as a development priority. However, the Bank’s role in Ukraine clearly demonstrates that much remains to be done to ensure it supports democratic and equitable land structures on the ground.