Farmers and human rights rights groups in Colombia came out Wednesday against a proposed land reform bill they say will lead to “land accumulation.”
The reform, currently being considered in Congress, would modify a 1994 law reserving state-owned land for sale to rural farm workers, who have traditionally farmed the properties of large estate holders without themselves owning any property.
Instead, the new law would open public land to larger investors, including foreign companies.
The issue of land distribution came to a head earlier this year, when an Oxfam International report revealed that Cargill Inc. — the world’s largest agricultural commodities trader — had used the law in question to accumulate a property 30 times the size permitted in the statute.
The government has yet to take any public steps to investigate whether Cargill’s use of shadow corporations in the acquisition process violated the existing law.
Government officials, however, including President Juan Manuel Santos, have previously argued that this sort of large-scale investment is necessary to make effective use of the lands being sold, much of which are cut off from major transit routes.
But opponents maintain that reforms oriented toward wealthier interests would be damaging for Colombia in the long run.
“The great problem is that accumulating land plots will not be healthy for the country and will not generate sustainable nor inclusive development,” said Oxfam Director Aida Pesquera. “This is precisely the kind of situation that caused the armed conflict.”
It is unclear how the proposed bill will play into ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebel group — the first agreement to come out of negotiations adressed the issue of unequal land distribution in Colombia, a problem experts say has created widespread poverty in the Colombian countryside.
The reform could also play a factor in the government’s negotiations with representatives of Colombia’s agricultural sector, who spent several weeks during August and September of this year protesting, among other things, a lack of access to land ownership.