We face today a world of increasing repression of rural communities and worsening threats to their rights to land and resources. We witness how landless peasants, farmers, farm workers, indigenous people, fishers, rural women and youth, and other marginalized rural sectors greatly suffer under authoritarian populist regimes. We see how massive infrastructure projects and agricultural “development” programs, many funded through onerous foreign debt and investments, displace rural peoples from their lands, livelihoods and cultures – all in the name of imperialist domination and plunder, local elite rule and private profits.
The neoliberal restructuring of agriculture endures through programs bankrolled by multilateral financial institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) as well as through new regional trade and investment agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Global powers – now counting emergent China – and their corporations continue to intensify their endless pursuit of and competition for control and exploitation of the world’s natural resources, including lands and all the wealth these hold and can produce.
All this feeds the unabated concentration (or reconcentration in the case of countries that attempted land reform) of land in the hands of a few at the expense of the vast majority who actually till and enrich the lands for generations. Latest available estimates show that of the 570 million farms worldwide, 475 million are small holder farms (i.e. less than two hectares). While comprising more than 83% of the total number of farms, these small holder farms only operate about 12% of the world’s agricultural land.2
However, structural issues, chief among them landlessness or lack of effective control over land and resources, push those who actually make these lands productive into perpetual and increasing poverty and hunger. While small farms are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia and could produce almost three-fourths of food commodities globally, these same regions account for 95% of the rural poor.3 Overall, eight out of every 10 of the world’s poorest live the rural areas, based on latest estimates.4
Many of the rural displacements are often accompanied by criminalization of land conflicts, militarization and systemic violence perpetrated by governments and foreign business and elite interests. It is not a coincidence that regions where foreign and domestic land deals for mining and plantation operations, economic land concessions, industrial zones, infrastructure development projects and others are also the same regions with the highest incidence of human rights atrocities related to land conflicts and struggles. This has been the case in Asia, Africa and Latin America which accounted for 78% of total number of land deals (74% in terms of size), based on the latest Land Matrix data.5 These same regions were also those monitored by PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) in 2018 with reported human rights violations related to land conflicts and struggles including killings (63 cases with 98 victims); arrests, detention and legal persecution (37 cases with 136 victims); and threats, harassments and physical assault (24 cases with 50 victims).6
But we also face the world today with even greater resolve and determination to reclaim our lands and future. We witness how movements of oppressed and exploited rural peoples in various countries push back against the onslaught of land and resource grabbing despite of and amid the systematic killings, persecution and harassment of their ranks. We see them march from their farms and villages to the capitals and urban centers to exact accountability from public officials and assert people’s sovereignty, declare their demands and fight for both urgent and long-term policy reforms.
Land occupation and collective cultivation campaigns in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand persist despite the massacres, threat, and intimidation. In Brazil, campesinos occupying and cultivating disputed lands have been defying eviction orders by agrarian courts and in some cases successfully reversed the orders. Across India, tens of thousands of farmers are participating in a series of historic marches to demand, among others, that the government recognize their right to land and to stop infrastructure projects that cause their dislocation. In Cambodia, communities continue their resistance against land grabbing by foreign firms including through the filing of landmark court cases and class-action lawsuits.7 These are just some of the stories of resistance and to be sure many others are happening as rural communities around the world carry on their struggle for land and life.
Today, we mark the Day of the Landless to celebrate and highlight the struggles and victories of peasant movements in the world against landlessness and poverty; against oppression and exploitation; and against imperialist and feudal rule. We mark the Day of the Landless to let the world recognize our legitimate demands for land to the tiller and genuine agrarian reform; for food sovereignty; and for people’s rights and democracy.
Today, we reaffirm our commitment to reclaim our lands and our future from the powerful forces that took them away.
Endorsed by the following
Global and regional networks –
1 The Day of the Landless was jointly launched by the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) and PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) on 29 March 2015 in Jakarta, Indonesia. The date marks the founding anniversary of the APC and the launching of PANAP’s “No Land, No Life!” campaign. The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) started to participate in the commemoration last year.
2 Lowder SK, Skoet J, Raney T. The number, size, and distribution of farms, smallholder farms, and family farms worldwide. World Dev 2016; 87: 16–29.
4 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Ending extreme poverty in the rural areas. Rome, 2018. http://www.fao.org/3/CA1908EN/ca1908en.pdf (accessed on 26 March 2019)
5 See Land Matrix, https://landmatrix.org/data/by-target-region/? (accessed on 26 March 2019)
6 Updated figures from PANAP’s Land & Rights Watch 2018 yearend report, http://files.panap.net/resources/PANAP-Land-and-Rights-Watch-2018-Yearend-Report.pdf (accessed on 26 March 26, 2019)
7 For details, see “Eviction of Quilombo Campo Grande Canceled!” (Friends of the MST, Dec 1, 2018, https://www.mstbrazil.org/news/eviction-quilombo-campo-grande-canceled); “Indian farmers back in Mumbai to demand land rights, loan waivers” (Reuters, Nov 22, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-farmers-protests-idUSKCN1NR0I3); “Cambodians file historic lawsuit against sugar producer” (IDI, Apr 2, 2018, https://farmlandgrab.org/post/view/28028)