THIRD WORLD NETWORK INFORMATION SERVICE ON SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
Dear Friends and Colleagues
Rising Land Inequality Threatens the Livelihoods of Billions of Small Farmers
Taking the rising value of property and the growth of landless populations into account for the first time, a new report calculates that land inequality is 41% higher than previously believed and is rising in most countries. The study finds that land inequality directly threatens the livelihoods of an estimated 2.5 billion people involved in smallholder agriculture, as well the world’s poorest 1.4 billion people, most of whom depend largely on agriculture for their livelihoods.
New measurements show that the top 10% of the rural population captures 60% of agricultural land value, while the bottom 50% of the rural population only control 3% of land value. The largest 1% of farms operate more than 70% of the world’s farmland and are integrated into the corporate food system, while over 80% are smallholdings of less than two hectares are generally excluded from global food chains. Landlessness was lowest in China and Vietnam, and highest in Latin America, where the poorest 50% of people owned just 1% of the land. Asia and Africa have the highest levels of smallholdings.
Since the 1980s, researchers found control over land has become far more concentrated both directly through ownership and indirectly through contract farming, which results in more destructive monocultures and fewer carefully tended smallholdings. The biggest shift from small to big was in the United States and Europe. This is now spreading to the developing world. The authors say the trend is driven by short-term financial instruments.
If this trend continues, increasing land inequality will have significant negative consequences for all societies, on economic and social development, on the environment and on democracy and peace. To address this, the report recommends greater regulation and oversight of opaque land ownership systems, a shift in tax regimes to support smallholders and better environmental management, and greater support for the land rights of communities.
With best wishes,
Third World Network
NOVEMBER 24, 2020, ROME – IN A NEW STUDY RELEASED TODAY, RESEARCHERS SAY THAT LAND INEQUALITY IS RISING IN MOST COUNTRIES
Worse, new measures and analysis proves that land inequality is significantly higher than previously recorded, with data reporting a 41 percent increase compared to traditional census data.
The report, Uneven Ground: land inequality at the heart of unequal societies (https://www.landcoalition.org/en/uneven-ground/), is the first of its kind, shedding new light on the scale and speed of this growing phenomenon and providing the most comprehensive picture available today. The report was informed by 17 specially commissioned research papers as well as analysis of existing data and literature under a wide partnership led by the International Land Coalition, and in close collaboration with Oxfam.
“In the framework of this project, a new way to measure land inequality was developed that goes beyond land size distribution captured through traditional agricultural census.” said Ward Anseeuw, (CIRAD/ILC), co-author of the report and coordinator of the initiative.
Historically, methods to measure land inequality excluded vital pieces of information, such as the value of land, multiple ownership and landlessness, as well as the control a person or an entity has over it. “These findings radically alter our understanding of the extent and far reaching consequences land inequality has, proving that not only is it a bigger problem than we thought but it’s undermining the stability and development of sustainable societies,” Anseeuw added.
THE SHOCKING STATE OF LAND INEQUALITY
New measurements show that the top 10 percent of the rural population captures 60 percent of agricultural land value, while the bottom 50 percent of the rural populations only control 3 percent of land value.
The study finds that land inequality directly threatens the livelihoods of an estimated 2.5 billion people involved in smallholder agriculture, as well the world’s poorest 1.4 billion people, most of whom depend largely on agriculture for their livelihoods.
“Growing inequality is the greatest obstacle to poverty eradication; in countries like Guatemala, extreme inequality costs lives,” asserts Oxfam Guatemala Country Director, Ana María Mendez.“ In rural Guatemala, extreme land inequality undermines the rights and livelihoods of indigenous and small-farmer communities and exacerbates the climate crisis. Today, as we confront the coronavirus pandemic and catastrophic hurricanes fueled by climate change, the impact of land inequality is even more stark, and the imperative to tackle the problem is urgent” she added.
HIDDEN HANDS – THE UNSEEN DRIVERS OF LAND INEQUALITY
Global inequality experts blame the upward trend of land inequality partly on the increased interest from corporate and financial actors, such as investment funds, in agricultural land investments. As corporate and financial investments grow, ownership and control of land becomes more concentrated and increasingly opaque.
Today, the largest 1 percent of farms operate more than 70 percent of the world’s farmland and are integrated into the corporate food system, while over 80 percent are smallholdings of less than two hectares that are generally excluded from global food chains. This phenomenon has even reached European shores with less than 3 percent of farms now accounting for more than half of the farmed land in the EU.
LAND INEQUALITY IS CENTRAL TO OTHER FORMS OF INEQUALITY, AND TO MANY GLOBAL CRISES AND TRENDS
The report further brings new evidence to light on how tackling land inequality is imperative to effectively respond to the most pressing challenges of our times and has the potential to deliver significant positive outcomes for humanity and the planet. If not addressed and the trend continues, increasing land inequality will have significant negative consequences for all societies, on economic and social development, on the environment and on democracy and peace. Yet the authors insist that land concentration is not inevitable.
“What we’re seeing is that land inequality is fundamentally a product of elite control, corporate interests, and political choices. And although the importance of land inequality is widely accepted, the tools to address it remain weakly implemented and vested interests in existing land distribution patterns, hard to shift,” said Giulia Baldinelli of ILC and co-author of the report.
Nevertheless, the study finds that change is necessary and the urgency of addressing land inequality is fuelled by the same urgency with which people are demanding action on contemporary global crises.
“As we move towards a post-Covid world, we will see increased pressure for fast economic gain at the expense of people and nature,” Mike Taylor, Director of the International Land Coalition Secretariat warned. Adding, “there is always, however, a more inclusive path to re-building our economies, that emphasises sustainable use of natural resources, respects human rights and addresses systemic causes of inequality.”
1% OF FARMS OPERATE 70% OF WORLD’S FARMLAND
One per cent of the world’s farms operate 70% of crop fields, ranches and orchards, according to a report that highlights the impact of land inequality on the climate and nature crises.
Since the 1980s, researchers found control over the land has become far more concentrated both directly through ownership and indirectly through contract farming, which results in more destructive monocultures and fewer carefully tended smallholdings.
Taking the rising value of property and the growth of landless populations into account for the first time, the report calculates land inequality is 41% higher than previously believed.
The authors said the trend was driven by short-term financial instruments, which increasingly shape the global environment and human health.
“In the past, these instruments were only of concern to the markets. They didn’t affect us individually. But now they touch every aspect of our lives because they are linked to the environmental crisis and the pandemic,” said Ward Anseeuw, senior technical specialist at the International Land Coalition, which led the research along with a group of partners including Oxfam and the World Inequality Lab.
The study published on Tuesday, is based on 17 new research papers as well as analysis of existing data and literature.
It says previous calculations of land inequality were based exclusively on ownership and the size of individual farms. On this basis, land inequality narrowed until the 1980s, after which it became wider.
That trend is more pronounced under the new methodology, which takes additional factors into account, such as multiple ownership, the quality and value of land, and the number of landless people.
Landlessness was lowest in China and Vietnam, and highest in Latin America, where the poorest 50% of people owned just 1% of the land.
Asia and Africa have the highest levels of smallholdings, where human input tends to be higher than chemical and mechanical factors, and where time frames are more likely to be for generations rather than 10-year investment cycles. Worldwide, between 80% and 90% of farms are family or smallholder-owned. But they cover only a small and shrinking part of the land and commercial production.
Over the past four decades, the biggest shift from small to big was in the United States and Europe, where ownership is in fewer hands and even individual farmers work under strict contracts for retailers, trading conglomerates and investment funds.
Ward said these financial arrangements are now spreading to the developing world, which is accelerating the decline of soil quality, the overuse of water resources, and the pace of deforestation.
“The concentration of ownership and control results in a greater push for monocultures and more intensive agriculture as investment funds tend to work on 10-year cycles to generate returns,” he said.
This is also connected to social problems, including poverty, migration, conflict and the spread of zoonotic diseases like Covid-19.
To address this, the report recommends greater regulation and oversight of opaque land ownership systems, a shift in tax regimes to support smallholders and better environmental management, and great support for the land-rights of communities.
“Smallholder farmers, family farmers, indigenous people and small communities are much more cautious with use of land. It’s not just about return on investment; it’s about culture, identity and leaving something for the next generation. They take much more care and in the long run, they produce more per unit area and destroy less.”