Divide and Purchase: How land ownership is being concentrated in Colombia | Agriculture

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Colombian law sets limits on the purchase of land previously awarded by the state to beneficiaries of agrarian reform processes. The aim is to avoid concentration of land ownership and to preserve the social function of this land. Yet between 2010 and 2012, Cargill
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  OXFAM RESEARCH REPORTS www.oxfam.org DIVIDE AND PURCHASE How land ownership is being concentrated in Colombia Colombian law sets limits on the purchase of land previously awarded by the state to beneficiaries of agrarian reform processes, in order to avoid concentration of ownership and to preserve the social function of this land. Yet between 2010 and 2012, Cargill  –  the largest agricultural commodity trader in the world  –  acquired 52,576 hectares of such land in Colombia’s Altillanura region through 36 shell companies created for that purpose. As a result, Cargill may have managed to evade the legal restriction through a method of fragmented purchases, exceeding the maximum size of land permitted by law for a single owner by more than 30 times. The resolution of this and other similar cases that contribute to rural unrest will test the policy coherence of the Colombian government, which has recently faced major national protests over agrarian problems, while having committed itself at peace talks to a more democratic distribution of land and to strengthening the small-farm economy.  2 Divide and Purchase: How land ownership is being concentrated in Colombia CONTENTS Executive summary ............................................................................. 3   1 Introduction ....................................................................................... 5   2 Context ............................................................................................. 7   The issue of land in Colombia ..................................................................................... 7   Legal limits to land acquisition .................................................................................... 8   The Altillanura in the spotlight ................................................................................... 10   The Department of Vichada and unprotected human rights ...................................... 14   Public investment in the service of private interests .................................................. 15   3 The case of Cargill in Colombia .......................................................17   The profile of Cargill in Colombia .............................................................................. 17   How did Cargill acquire land in the Altillanura? ......................................................... 18   4 Legal and political implications ........................................................21   Cargill ‟ s actions in the light of Colombian law ........................................................... 21   Policies that can help or hinder the concentration of land ......................................... 22   What can the state do in cases of accumulation of baldíos ? ..................................... 24   5 Conclusions .....................................................................................26   Bibliography ........................................................................................28    Acronyms ..................................................................................................................... 29   Notes............................................................................................................................ 30    Divide and Purchase: How land ownership is being concentrated in Colombia 3 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Land distribution in Colombia is extremely unequal, with concentration of land ownership among the highest in the world, and second highest in Latin America after Paraguay. Inequality in access to land is closely linked to rural poverty, and is both a cause and a consequence of the internal armed conflict that has ravaged the country for more than half a century. During this period, violence and forced displacement have caused dispossession involving up to 8 million hectares – more than the area currently devoted to agriculture throughout the country.  Attempts to reverse the concentration of land ownership have so far been unsuccessful, as large estates have never been affected. The principal instrument in improving access to land and implementing agrarian reform has been the award of state land, baldíos , to small-scale farmers and agricultural workers – often land in remote regions with low production potential and lack of infrastructure. In 1994, Act 160 was passed, with regulation of these processes of adjudication among its principal objectives. This law was inspired by a constitutional mandate ordering the state to provide access to land for the rural population with least resources. It established the „Family Agriculture Uni t‟  (UAF) – the amount of land considered necessary for a family to obtain a decent livelihood – as the maximum the state may award to a single person. To avoid the concentration of this land awarded at one time as baldíos , the law forbade the accumulation of such tracts of land above the limit set by the UAF. However, Act 160 has not succeeded in preventing national and international companies from concentrating huge expanses of land by dividing their purchases. Between 2010 and 2012, Cargill thus acquired, through 36 different shell companies, 39 properties in the Department of Vichada for the production of corn and soy. Together, these properties comprise a total area of 52,576 hectares, exceeding the maximum size of a UAF in that Department   by more than 30 times. These investments have taken place in the Altillanura, an isolated region with high levels of poverty, lack of public services, an absence of state institutions, and serious human rights violations due to the presence of various armed groups, as reported by the Office of the Ombudsman of Colombia. Recently, the area has been considered by some as the final agricultural frontier in Colombia. This view, along with government development plans, has attracted interest from private investors. The government would like to reproduce the Brazilian Cerrado  model in the Altillanura. However, this large-scale plantation model runs counter to the fact that much of the land in this region has already been allocated to small-farm production. The government argues that only large companies are capable of developing the productive potential of the Altillanura region, and therefore seeks to establish incentives and legal reforms that will pave the way for domestic and foreign investment. However, the small-farm sector has been shown to be as, if not more, efficient – particularly if its contribution to food security, employment and poverty reduction is taken into account. Both public and private investment in the Altillanura region are undoubtedly necessary, as they both play a key role in overcoming production limitations and exploiting the potential of the region. However, investment should be carried out in a responsible manner that takes into account the specific Colombian context. This means, among other things, respecting existing rights and legislation relating to land use and basing investment on comprehensive assessments of social and environmental impacts at both local and national levels. The land acquisition practices of Cargill in Colombia described in this report should be reviewed in light of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, whose implementation the company states it supports. These guidelines stipulate that any transaction should respect legitimate tenure rights and other human rights and be carried out in a transparent manner, and consistent with the objectives of social and economic growth and sustainable human development, focused on small-scale farmers. The concentration of vast tracts of land in areas which have been destined by law for small-scale agriculture exacerbates social inequality and conflict and worsens the country ‟ s existing problem of concentrated land ownership. The recent national agrarian strike that has mobilized tens of thousands of small farmers, Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples, as well as urban dwellers, to  4 Divide and Purchase: How land ownership is being concentrated in Colombia demand structural reforms in rural areas illustrates the importance of this problem in Colombia. This situation is particularly worrying at a time when the country is striving to move forward a peace process and to make full reparations to victims; including the legal and material restitution of land they were either forced to abandon due to violence, or which was taken from them. Equitable access to land is at the centre of discussions at the peace talks taking place in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC. In those talks, the government has shown willingness to move towards a comprehensive rural reform and agrarian policy that strengthens the small-farm economy. But its response to recently reported cases of accumulation of baldíos  challenges the consistency of its position. The state has the responsibility to act to resolve cases where the law may have been violated, and it has legal instruments and institutions to do so. However, if it allows land that was once distributed to small-scale farmers and agricultural workers to remain concentrated in the hands of large companies, including the world ‟ s largest agricultural commodities trader, it is allowing the reversal of hard-won progress towards the redistribution of land, and delivering state assets into the service of private capital.
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