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THIRD WORLD NETWORK INFORMATION SERVICE ON SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE

Dear Friends and Colleagues

Raising the Alarm on Land Privatization

Billions of people rely on communally-managed natural resources such as rivers, lakes, forests, and savannas for their livelihoods. As much as 65% of the world痴 land area is stewarded by communities under customary systems. Local communities and indigenous groups are on the frontlines to defend their natural resources against governments and corporations that want to convert smallholder farms, grasslands, and forests into monoculture plantations, cattle ranches, and mines, which further contribute to climate change and environmental degradation.

A new report raises the alarm on an unprecedented wave of privatization of natural resources underway around the world. Six case studies from the Ukraine, Zambia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, and Brazil show how governments pass laws, create land markets, conduct land reforms, and sign Public Private Partnerships to open more lands and natural resources to exploitation. This trend is largely encouraged by Western governments with the US as a key player, private foundations, and international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Bank痴 key policy prescriptions, for instance, include formalizing private property rights, easing the sale and lease of land for commercial use, systematizing the sale of public land by auction, and improving procedures for expropriation. Blockchain technology is also an increasingly used element to privatize and access natural resources.

The report calls for a halt and reversal of the privatization of the commons to protect and nurture these natural resources for future generations. Rather than erasing local governance and negating individual autonomy, it urges government to build systems that incorporate a diversity of ownership and tenure systems, and focus on a development path that serves the people instead of one that takes the land away from them for corporate profits.

With best wishes

Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
10400 Penang
Malaysia
Email: twn@twnetwork.org
Websites: http://www.twn.my/and http://www.biosafety-info.net/
To subscribe to other TWN information services: www.twnnews.net

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Item 1

PRESS RELEASE: NEW REPORT WARNS OF AN UNPRECEDENTED WAVE OF LAND PRIVATIZATION

14 July 2020
https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/driving-dispossession
Media Contact: Anuradha Mittal +1 (510) 530-5126 ; amittal@oaklandinstitute.org

Oakland, CA Amidst a worsening climate crisis, the Oakland Institute痴 new report, Driving Dispossession: The Global Push to 填nlock the Economic Potential of Land, sounds the alarm on the unprecedented wave of privatization of natural resources that is underway around the world. Through six case studies Ukraine, Zambia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, and Brazil the report details the myriad ways by which governments willingly or under the pressure of financial institutions and Western donor agencies are putting more land into so-called 菟roductive use in the name of development.

典he fact that most of the land on our planet, especially in the Global South, is public land or land held under customary tenure systems is seen as an obstacle to exploitation and economic growth, said Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute and the lead author of the report. 敵overnments are being pushed to adopt the Western notion of private land ownership to give corporations access to natural resources land, water, and minerals just the opposite of the drastic shift we need to win the struggle against climate change, he continued.

Driving Dispossession highlights the United States as a key player in an unfettered offensive to privatize land around the world via US blockchain corporations, government agencies, and the World Bank. In Zambia, the Bank has partnered with a subsidiary of the US-based online retailer Overstock.com to use blockchain technology for land titling with the goal of 砥nlocking trillions of dollars in global mineral reserves that are inaccessible due to unclear land governance systems. In Sri Lanka, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US government entity, is targeting state land it intends to map and record up to 67 percent of the country to 菟romote land transactions that could stimulate investment and increase its use as an economic asset. In Ukraine, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund leveraged the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic to coerce 摘urope痴 breadbasket into putting its agricultural land for sale in a land market.

The same logic is at play in Myanmar. In 2018, the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Law was amended to boost economic development by making so-called 砺acant lands available for agriculture, mining, and other purposes. In Papua New Guinea, where 97 percent of the land is customary, the government wants to 砥nlock this land so it can be 杜obilized and put in 菟roductive use to ensure 菟rivate sector growth. In Brazil, Bolsonaro has been aggressively expanding ranching and exploitation of the Amazon at the expense of the Indigenous People and the forests they live in and steward.

Driving Dispossession also provides a striking compilation of offers made by governments to attract investors. Hundreds of millions of hectares of land are being made available, including from some of the poorest countries, which raises serious concerns about this 電evelopment strategy and the ability to eventually curb the overexploitation of natural resources. But local communities, civil society organizations, and Indigenous People are standing up to resist and preserve their livelihoods and the environment, as documented in the report.

Privatization of land is being touted as a development imperative. Driving Dispossession debunks the myth that it leads to human development, and provides a strong rebuttal to the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto痴 pseudo-scientific thesis about the positive impact of titling, often cited to back such policies.

典his push to privatize land threatens people and the planet at a time when we need urgent action to curb carbon emissions and protect livelihoods. Governments and international institutions must halt the privatization of the commons and instead move decisively to protect natural resources for future generations, Mousseau concluded.

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Item 2

DRIVING DISPOSSESSION

セ THE GLOBAL PUSH TO 填NLOCK THE ECONOMIC POTENTIAL OF LAND

by Fr馘駻ic Mousseau, Andy Currier, Elizabeth Fraser, and Jessie Green, with research assistance by Naomi Maisel and Elena Teare
July 2020
https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/sites/oaklandinstitute.org/files/driving-dispossession.pdf

Executive Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic might have briefly eclipsed the escalating climate and environmental crisis facing the world. Yet, deforestation, desertification, environmental degradation, pollution, and the destruction of biodiversity continues at alarming rates, jeopardizing the health and livelihoods of billions.

A common thread within these threats is the overexploitation of our natural resources. The land available to us is finite we have access to only 149 million square kilometers, less than 30 percent of the surface of the earth, but we act as if it were unlimited. The 展orld Overshoot Day, which marks the point each year at which 塗umanity starts to consume the world痴 natural resources faster than they can be replenished illustrates this overexploitation. In 2019, the date was July 29, the earliest ever.

With the world痴 attention fixated on the current pandemic, the need to address the climate crisis remains urgent. We know what needs to happen to stop this destruction and preserve the planet for current and future generations. In addition to phasing out fossil fuels, we must stop the overexploitation of natural resources, including ongoing massive deforestation. With regards to agriculture, the 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns against the damaging effects of monocropping. It also highlights the importance of agroecology to improve the 都ustainability and resilience of agricultural systems by buffering climate extremes, reducing degradation of soils, and reversing unsustainable use of resources; and consequently increase yield without damaging biodiversity.

Humanity has a decade to reduce global emissions by half or we will rocket past a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, an outcome scientists warn will be disastrous. Inaction will result in an immeasurable cost, as climate catastrophes will cascade and continue to intensify. Despite these clear warnings by scientists, world leaders are still failing to act on the scale required. Instead of taking meaningful action, governments, corporations, and international institutions are actually 電oubling-down, wanting to exploit more land through a euphemism-based narrative of putting it to 菟roductive use in the name of economic progress and 電evelopment. To attract private investment, governments are thus marketing hundreds of millions of hectares of land as 殿vailable without regard for those whose livelihoods depend upon it. Faced with this covert threat, communities globally continue to resist the exploitation of their lands. A major part of the land on the planet is still not controlled by private interests. As much as 65 percent of the world痴 land area is stewarded by communities under customary systems. Whether it is on legally recognized public land or customary land, billions of people rely on communally managed natural resources such as rivers, lakes, forests, and savannas for their livelihoods. For most of us, land is a common good, valued as an ancestral asset with social and cultural significance.

Local communities and Indigenous groups are the stewards of these resources and are on the frontline to defend them against land grabbing and destructive practices. They courageously resist the governments and corporations that want to convert smallholder farms, grasslands, and forests into monoculture plantations, cattle ranches, and mines which further contribute to climate change and environmental degradation.

As people痴 very presence and resistance is seen as an obstacle to investment and business, many governments around the world have been prompted to adopt the Western capitalist notion of private land ownership. This includes the creation of land markets so that land can be leased or sold and put into so-called 菟roductive use to 砥nlock its value. The World Bank is a key actor in the push to privatize and commodify land. In 2017, its Enabling the Business of Agriculture report prescribed to governments the series of measures they should take in order to 兎nhance the productivity of land use and encourage agribusiness expansion. The key policy prescriptions included formalizing private property rights, easing the sale and lease of land for commercial use, systematizing the sale of public land by auction, and improving procedures for expropriation.

This report details how this doctrine is being applied around the world. Six country case studies show how governments pass new laws, create land markets, conduct land reforms, and sign Public Private Partnerships to open more lands and natural resources to exploitation. This trend is largely encouraged by Western governments and private foundations, as well as international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The role played by these two international financial institutions in driving the marketization of land is fully on display in Ukraine, where the IMF has leveraged the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic to coerce 摘urope痴 breadbasket into creating a land market despite overwhelming opposition in the country. In March 2020, Ukraine ended the moratorium on the sale of land that had stood for 19 years in order to qualify for a desperately needed US$5 billion loan package from the IMF. The World Bank, along with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), has been laying the groundwork for the creation of a land market to the benefit of agribusiness and private investors who promise 堵rowth in exchange for access to land. Farmers, agricultural workers, unions, and the vast majority of the population have staunchly opposed the creation of a land market, as this major reform will allow agribusiness conglomerates, oligarchs, and private foreign investors to increase their already substantial control over land and natural resources in the country.

While technological innovations can play a role in documenting and securing land rights, they can also be used to entrench existing inequalities in access to land. Blockchain technology is an increasingly used element of this push to privatize and access natural resources. In Zambia, the government is partnering with Medici Land Governance (MLG), a blockchain company and subsidiary of the US-based online retailer Overstock.com, to assist with land registration and titling. The goal of the National Land Titling Program is to register 殿ll property in the country in order to provide security of tenure to property owners. Former Overstock.com CEO, Patrick M. Byrne, explains that the use of blockchain for land titles will help unlock trillions of dollars in global mineral reserves that are inaccessible due to unclear land governance systems. In 2018, he signed a multi-country partnership with the World Bank to expand the use of blockchain for registering land around the world.

A third case study examines how Myanmar intends to put land to its most 兎fficient use through amendments to the country痴 天acant, Fallow, and Virgin (VFV) Land Law. Passed in fall 2018, the amendments imposed a six-month deadline to anyone occupying so-called VFV land to apply for a 30-year permit to continue using the land, after which any unpermitted lands were made available for agriculture, mining, and other purposes. Far from being vacant or fallow, these lands are used by communities for farms, gardens, orchards, and forests and are governed under customary tenure systems. Those who call these regions home are confronted with the stark choice of rescinding their ancestral claims to the land in exchange for a 30-year permit, or facing eviction, jail time, and fines. Hundreds of civil society groups from ethnic Karen, Kachin, Shan, Chin, Karenni, and Mon communities have expressed their concerns over the law, with support from national and international NGOs, but it proceeded on schedule for its May 11, 2019 deadline. The law has already been used to seize community land for palm oil operations, which threaten people痴 livelihoods and the ecosystem. The law also threatens the ability to ever return home for hundreds of thousands of displaced people and refugees. Nearly half of Rakhine state, where the majority of Myanmar痴 Rohingya people originate from, is considered VFV land.

While 97 percent of the country is under customary land tenure, Papua New Guinea (PNG) is making available millions of hectares of lands for palm oil, mining, and timber operations under the guise of 砥nlocking the economic value of land. Despite international outcry and substantial national mobilization, PNG痴 most recent development plan aims to move 20 percent of all land into a formal market by 2022. Additionally, in 2019, the government organized a Land Summit to promote this agenda and in August of the same year, the new Prime Minister announced plans to create up to 18 special economic zones to boost economic development, which will also require seizing more customary lands. Yet, as already seen in the past four decades, rather than delivering on the promised development benefits, the take-over of customary land for the exploitation of natural resources has led to deforestation and environmental degradation, destruction of livelihoods, and caused conflicts within and between communities.

The fifth case study analyzes the compact between Sri Lanka and the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) that could potentially shift millions of hectares of land into private control. A Land Project focused on mapping and digitizing state lands has the explicit purpose of stimulating investment and increasing its use as an economic asset. Motivated by the difficulty the private sector currently faces in acquiring land in Sri Lanka, the project will extensively map and digitize land records of up to 67 percent of the entire country. Civil society groups have called on the government to reject the compact and warned that it will result in 斗and grabs by creditors, the transfer of prime land to multinational corporations, [and] the loss of livelihoods for local farmers. For dispossessed groups and ethnic minorities, the prospect of the government determining what land is vacant poses an enormous threat given the country痴 history of war-related displacement, internal colonization, and landlessness.

Finally, in Brazil, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is using a pro-business, anti-Indigenous rhetoric to garner public support for seizing Indigenous land. Bolsonaro assumed office in January 2019 after a campaign in which he promised to expand the exploitation of the Amazon, halt the demarcation of Indigenous lands, and arm ranchers to allow the takeover of those lands for cattle ranching. While some of his attempts have been blocked by Congress, he has succeeded at emboldening politicians and citizens alike, resulting in increased land invasions, killings of and violence against Indigenous and land rights activists,6 as well as an acceleration of deforestation. The budgets, staffing, and enforcement of the agencies responsible for environmental and Indigenous protections have all been slashed.7 It was in this context that in 2019, ranchers set large portions of the Amazon on fire, threatening a multitude of Indigenous communities and the ecosystems on which they rely.

Whereas some like Patrick Byrne or Jair Bolsonaro are explicit about their goal of accessing or 砥nlocking profitable natural resources, most proponents of the privatization of land rather use a development imperative justification. The idea that privatizing land will bring development comes in part from the now largely debunked claims of Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, that 都ecuring land rights via private titles would improve access to credit, agricultural investment, and environmental stewardship. Research reveals that private titling has not increased access to credit and loans. The claim that private titles offer tenure security while customary systems remain insecure is often repeated, yet not substantiated by evidence. On the contrary, the process of transitioning locally developed customary systems that in many cases offer tenure security into private titled land is likely to result in considerable social and economic displacement while placing ecosystems at risk. While research has long shown the value of customary systems, Western aid agencies and international financial institutions generally fail to recognize the evidence and continue to advocate and support the privatization of land and the creation of land markets.

Together, these six case studies sound the alarm on a trend that threatens people and the planet. Returning to normal is not an option as unfettered capitalism has brought us to this disaster. We must halt and reverse the privatization of the commons to protect and nurture these natural resources for future generations. Rather than erasing local governance and negating individual autonomy, governments must instead build systems that incorporate a diversity of ownership and tenure systems, and focus on a development path that serves the people instead of one that takes the land away from them for corporate profits.

 


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