24 November 2014

As the World Bank promoted its Seven Principles of Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) at its annual conference in Washington D.C. from April 23-26, food sovereignty activists with Via Campesina, National Family Farm Coalition, and other groups called attention to the bank’s role in land grabs.

On April 24, protesters with Occupy Wall Street joined New York’s Ethiopian community and others to target a major farmland investment conference the bank had at the Waldorf Astoria. Bank officials met with large money managers like the Canadian Pension Fund, TIAA-CREF and PensionDanmark [sic].

The World Bank’s policies for land privatization and concentration have paved the way for corporations from Wall Street to Singapore to take upwards of 80 million hectares of land from rural communities across the world in the past few years, according to a press release from National Family Farm Coalition.

During a tele-press conference on Monday, Giulia Franchi from the Italian-based Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank (Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale) said the bank is using its RAI principles to justify and support transnational corporations’ attempts to grab farmland.

“It’s an attempt to make it look like a responsible deal, as something that can be done in a transparent way with the support of the local community, and something that will improve local communities. But there’s no way the expropriation of people’s land, however it’s done, can be a responsible deal.”

Franchi said corporations are using diversified financial vehicles such as pension funds, commercial banks, and investment banks, as well as foreign governments, to acquire millions of hectares of land worldwide for producing food and agrifuels for international export.

“This is all being done with the backing of international financial institutions, and most of all, the World Bank.”

Franchi said the bank for decades has been promoting land concentration and privatization policies.

“It has been promoting land titling programs in many countries in the world, which has transformed customary and traditional land rights into titles which can be marketed, traded, and sold.”

As the World Bank presented its Seven Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) Via Campesina and its international allies continued with their call for the bank to comply with the Extra Territorial Human Rights Obligations of States.

“The bank cannot continue to act in full impunity as it has up to now,” Franchi said.

Bob St. Peter directs Food For Maine’s Future and is a board member of the National Family Farm Coalition. He describes himself as a small-scale family farmer. He said he and his family rent, borrow, and lease about 4 acres of land for largely subsistence and small, direct market production.

“Coming at this as a new farmer in the United States, and looking out to what’s about to happen over the next 20 years, there is set to be a very large transfer of productive farm land in this country. The older generation of farmers are set to retire and we have not been developing the farmers that are going to be able to replace them.”

St. Peter said many farmers are in debt and likely will sell their land and equipment to have some money as they retire and to leave some to their children.

“We’re in the position now of having to stave off what is likely to be a very significant rush for farm land in this country. Those of us who would like to farm the land…are not in the position to purchase it at the prices that the older generation is going to need to get themselves out of debt to secure their retirement. There aren’t enough land trust or philanthropic dollars to make up the difference. So, what is likely to happen is there will be investment groups--and we’re starting to see this already---speculators as well as corporations purchasing these farm lands.”

St. Peter said this is going to exacerbate problems related to industrialized agriculture. He calls for not only low interest loans, but a transfer of wealth of some kind so new farmers have access to land without repeating the cycle of chronic debt where they have to depend on corporations just to stay in business.

“We don’t have a plan for that yet, but if we don’t stave off the farm land grab that is happening in other parts of the world, we’re likely to see that happen here.”

St. Peter calls for local food enthusiasts to look into the systemic issues involved with their cause.

“There’s been this change in the food industry. There’s been this political economy established to favor corporate agribusiness and that model has been replicated around the world. So the small-scale farmer ---in Maine I am literally competing in my local community with cheap imported food from all over the world, produced in conditions we don’t generally support.”

He said people who are only focused on their local food system would be well served by looking deeper and wider.

“(They should look at) how the global food industry manipulates markets and uses international financial institutions and trade organizations to basically pit us against each other and undercut and undermine all of us. There’s a situation in Mexico, for example, of people being displaced from their land because of dumping. It also happens in our country, in our local communities. That’s why we have a local food movement in the first place. It’s because that’s been taken from us and we need to put it back. But we can’t do that without understanding both the solidarity aspects and the way the political economy works.”

Rafael Alegria, coordinator for Via Campesina for Central America said during the tele-press-conference that in Honduras and other countries in the region the re-concentration of the control of land under the auspices of the government, the transnational corporations, and the World Bank, has displaced small producers and family farmers.

“The situation in the countryside in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador is similar. It’s very grave poverty in the countryside but this does not only affect the countryside but also the urban areas.”

Alegria said the US used free trade agreements to dump many tons of rice on the Honduran market, making it impossible for local producers to sell at a reasonable price. (See Oxfam briefing paper, A Raw Deal For Rice Under DR-CAFTA)

He said this is causing serious agrarian and rural conflicts in Honduras.

“In the region of Bajo Aguan on the Atlantic coast of Honduras, large numbers of campesinos have been hurt and killed in conflicts with a large land owner named Miguel Facusse, who owns Dinant corporation. This company has been in the sites of the World Bank. They have been trying to give them $30 million in loans. He and Reynaldo Canales---these two men in private industry---have taken over almost all of the arable land. They have displaced thousands of small producers and family farmers and replaced their diverse cultivation methods with monocultures of African palm for export.”

Facusse makes his fortunes by producing palm oil used for snack foods.

Alegria said, “We’ve been able to document that Mexican corporations and private interests from other neighboring countries, as well as the United States, have taken over large tracts of land in Honduras. That’s why on the April 17th Via Campesina decided to do an international struggle to highlight the problem of land grabbing. That’s why on April 17 campesinos and small family farmers in Honduras decided to do a land reclamation. They reclaimed 12,500 hectares of publicly own land that is now being taken over by private corporations and private interests. But the government and private interests have been actively evicting farmers and farm workers from these land reclamations, and today (April 23) there was a predawn attack by private guards from the sugar company.”

As a result of the attack, the leader of Movimiento Campesino de San Manuel (MOCSAN) is hanging between life in death in a hospital in San Pedro Sula , said Alegria.

“The minister of agrarian reform and the minister of security and the Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa refused to talk with Via Campesina and the Honduran campesino movment. So, we declare that those government representatives are responsible for all of the bloodshed. We are also denouncing the vast media campaign to defame my leadership and the leadership of all of the local and regional campesino movements in Honduras. We demand that the World Bank stop promoting land grabbing being done by private interest. We call on the World Bank to support comprehensive land reform strategies like the one we put forward before the legislature of Honduras in October 2011.”

Alegria said there has been no legislative progress.