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70% of the planet’s arable land belongs to 1% of farms

A coalition of 250 organizations, the International Land Coalition, is ringing alarm bells for agricultural land inequality with a report released on November 24th. According to this report, 1% of farmers take care of 70% of the agricultural land. According to the authors of the text, such a concentration has serious ecological, social and political consequences.

The study by the International Land Coalition reveals underestimated inequalities

Since the 1980s, researchers have observed a concentration of land control with the liberalization of markets and the financialization of agricultural companies. The agricultural world is increasingly polarized between large farmers, large landowners and small producers, who are often family-owned, even if the two worlds interact.

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A group of members of the International Land Coalition, including the NGO Oxfam, the Center for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (Cirad) and the University of Bern, conducted a study in 17 countries to investigate the importance of land ownership in agriculture.

The study draws on the known literature on the subject, on pre-existing data such as the Gini coefficient for land distribution (surveys on ownership and area of ​​farms). The data have been completed taking into account some ignored criteria such as multiple ownership, effective land control and landlessness.

The result is clear, land inequalities are worsening. Taking into account the landless, the new methodology shows that inequalities in the duration of land use in rural areas were underestimated by as much as 41%. The number of farms is estimated at 608 million worldwide: 80% are small farms with an area of ​​less than two hectares that are excluded from the global food chains. 1% of the largest farms use 70% of the planet’s arable land.

According to the report, these land inequalities lead to economic inequalities, with agricultural labor precariousness and an increase in unemployment due to the economies of scale of large farms. In developing countries, Asia and Africa, where the number of small farms is highest, the large farm model run by the elite of the countries could also be the source of democratic weakening.

The environmental impact of land inequality

Climate change is one of the causes of land inequality as it reduces agricultural productivity in certain regions of the world. Big farms could also promote climate change, says Ward Anseeuw, senior technical specialist for the International Land Coalition interviewed by the Guardian: “The concentration of ownership and control puts more pressure on monocultures and more agriculture. intense because mutual funds typically operate on ten-year cycles to generate returns. “Practices that will ultimately deplete the soil, a conclusion the United Nations shared in 2019.

Conversely, Ward Anseeuw praises smallholders, family farmers, etc .: “They are much more careful and in the long run produce more per unit area and destroy less.”

To address these land inequalities, which are already very high in Latin America and growing in Africa and Asia, the report suggests various options for reflection: long-term measures with redistribution programs, regulatory reforms, fiscal measures and measures of accountability related to the land, but also throughout the agrifood sector. An ambitious paradigm shift “but not impossible” according to the report of the International Land Coalition. Much is at stake, however, in sustaining agricultural production to feed a human population that could approach 10 billion people in 2050, while preserving the soil to … maintain agricultural production.

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