A leading United Nations Development Program (UNDP) figure has called for the government to change its economic focus from big business to the public good to reform rural Colombia.
On Wednesday, Absalon Machado handed the UNDP report calling for widespread agrarian reform to President Juan Manuel Santos.
The report says a “democratization of land ownership” through a “transforming rural reform” is necessary to address poverty and inequality in rural Colombia.
Machado, the director of the report, told Colombia Reports “there has to be a change in the direction of public policies, in the sense that big businesses must not be allowed to take up resources and public spending.”
The report states “the rural problem needs more state in the market and less market in the state.”
Machado said, “this phrase means there must be a refocusing of public spending in a way that focuses less on private or privileged groups that work based on the logic of the market and not based on the collective good.”
Machado admitted the stance “could be contradictory” to proposed free trade agreements although he refused to drawn on whether the UNDP opposes the deals.
Critics of the U.S.-Colombia FTA say that small and medium scale farmers will not be able to compete with the influx of cheap goods from the U.S and the deal will favor large landowners who can cultivate in-demand but slow yielding products like African Palm.
Machado argued that to prevent this, “small and medium businesses should be strengthened and the state should favor them in the administration of resources so they can compete.”
He added small and medium businesses should concentrate on internal markets and not competing on the international stage.
According to Machado although it may go against the principles of the FTA, “in the background the philosophy is more state, more intervention, more capacity for regulation, more institutionalism and regulation of the functioning of markets that have many imperfections.”
While calling for change in the government’s economic policies, Machado offered a cautious welcome to its legislative attempts to address land reform.
The UNDP report states that now is an “exceptional moment” due to the recent passing of the ‘Victims Law’, which aims to return stolen land to displaced people and the development of a Land and Rural Development law, soon to go before Congress.
Machado said, “with this decision the government has opened up the possibility of discussing the subject of land ownership and looking at this problem more deeply.”
However, he said the program must be accompanied by a program of rural development and security guarantees and was only the start of what would be a long term process.
He said, “We will have to wait and see.”
According to Machado, the armed conflict and the “rural conflict” between big landowners and the rural poor are separate issues but intrinsically linked.
He said, “Colombian society has to take the decision about whether it is going to modernize to solve the rural problem and issues of land ownership in order to provide a solution to the conflict.”