Colombia’s extreme inequality in land ownership is the worst in South America, a continent where land concentration is already exceedingly high.
A recent report by Oxfam highlighted the alarming nature of the country’s land concentration, with the top one percent of the largest farms staking claim to 81% of Colombian land.
Perhaps even more pertinent is that the trend’s gotten worse. In 1960, 29% of Colombia was occupied by farms of more than 500 hectares. Less than 60 years and more than 8 million displaced peasants later, the number has skyrocketed to 66%.
Oxfam’s Colombia director, Aida Pesquera, spoke to the Ministry of Agriculture regarding the skewed figures yet according to Pesquera, the political tug from the country’s small but powerful pocket of wealthy elites continues to stall progress.
“I think the government has a lot of pressure from the private sector. For many years the president has made statements in meetings with businessmen, such as the cane growers of Valle del Cauca, promising them legal security. They are not prioritizing the agenda of peasant organizations at all,” said Pesquera.
Land ownership has been a problem since the Spanish conquest of South America but has been put firmly on the agenda in recent years since the government’s 2016 peace deal with the FARC rebel group.
At the top of the peace agenda was correcting land concentration to divulge more land to the country’s poorest peasant families.
Decree 902 has been approved but under revision and it would supposedly facilitate the comprehensive rural reform agreed to in the final peace deal, intended to give greater access and formalization of land to farmers.
Yet according to Oxfam, the proposal could end up having the opposite effect and skewing land ownership even further.
After passing through Congress, legislation to increase access to land “would enormously and unnecessarily increase the area surrounding mining (…) with serious damage to the allocation and formalization of land to peasants,” said Jaime Forero Alvarez, director of the rural observatory at the Pontifical Javeriana University.
Mining is typically conducted with heavy and expensive machinery, meaning large corporations would benefit most, pushing farmers further to the fringes of society.
Today, the top 0.1% of farms occupy 60% of Colombian land.