A rural peasant reserve zone is a specified area of land designed to “stabilize the peasant economy, prevent the expansion of the agricultural frontier and neutralize the concentration of ownership”, according to Incora, Colombia’s government agency responsible for their implementation.
These small pro-farming areas were created by law in 1994, as the government tried to help small scale farmers by declaring six conflict prone areas as reserves for them. The inhabitants of these areas were thus protected from land grabs and could benefit from rural development efforts.
The zones have a mere economic significance and offer no political autonomy. “There is nothing wholly political about the zones, they are not self governing at all. It is just much harder to buy and sell landholdings in reserve zones than it would be on the open market, therefore you cannot concentrate the land” explained Adam Isacson of Washington-based think tank WOLA.
“Practically they are designed to limit the concentration of ownership and create space for small family farms” added Isacson.
The main benefits of rural reserve zones are twofold. To begin with, they provide peasants with a form of security.
“In a country that has seen so much displacement, the zones create some security. If in these areas you cannot own land above a certain size, then you are protected from wealthier individuals across the country or indeed multinationals looking to seize large plots of land.”
Secondly, in theory at least, the zones help peasants contribute towards the economy.
“Although it has not actually happened, it is assumed in these zones that if you are regulating the size of landholdings then everybody has a title, and when you have a title you can get credit and start to participate in the economy” explained the expert.
“That is the idea, that these zones will be able to do business with the rest of the country on a more equal footing” added Isacson.
According to the US peace council, rebel FARC — currently negotiating a peace deal with the government — have proposed the creation of a further 53 zones, where each area of land would enjoy “political, administrative and judicial autonomy.”
Isacson however, does not believe that the peasant leaders seek autonomy, or that the government agrees to inflating the political weight of these zones.
“It may be that the zones have more autonomy on the economic development model that they pursue, or perhaps the use of resources within the zone.”
“Currently, the resources are all going to the mayors of the municipalities within the zones for government programs. The mayors however, may have nothing to do with these zones. They may be representing large landowner interests for example, so there may be some reforms that give the zones more resource control” added Isacson.
Peasant reserve zones in Colombia
- Interview with Adam Isacson (Washington office on Latin America)
- Colombian Government Repression of Catatumbo Peasants Has Lessons (US peace council)
- Zona de Reserva Campesina (Incora)
- Zona de Reserva Campesina – ILSA (PDF / Incoder)