Learn lessons about land grabbing and agricultural reforms in Colombia

This blog post shares some comments arising from the International Conference on Global Land Grabbing held in Bogota in March (see this IDS news article). They are all relevant to the broader debate on land and agricultural reforms, including in Zimbabwe.

I’ll start with an article I co-wrote with Angela Serrano for openDemocracy, entitled: There’s a new and silent land grab underway – we need to stop iT. We open with the following:

“Just fifteen years ago, large-scale land grabs regularly made headlines around the world, as wealthy governments bought up fertile fields in poorer countries to grow and export produce to feed their own people. This was part of a trend that has seen 30 million hectares of agricultural land sold worldwide since the early 2000s, according to the Land Matrix, an independent monitoring initiative that tracks land transactions around the world. But this spectacular state-led land grab now appears to have been replaced by quiet, often small and incremental forms of dispossession, as capital pushes its boundaries to expand agricultural lands, nature reserves, carbon investments and energy projects. Against this backdrop, land battles are taking place all over the world.”

Salena Tramel wrote two excellent articles about the conference: 5 things you need to know about the global land rush and how to stop it and how to resist the growing global land grab. In particular, she highlights the wave of ‘green’ and ‘blue grabs’, suggesting that “climate politics represents the perfect storm”:

“Green and blue grabs – the idea of ​​’selling nature to save it’ – masquerades as a solution to the climate crisis and has resulted in a rolling wave of extraction, commodification and financialization of nature. Such initiatives have brought new actors onto the scene of the extractive economy, some of whom initially opposed them, in a hugely complicated alliance.”

But there is hope, she says:

“But against all odds, and often in the face of great danger, social movements win the battle for territory. This work takes place in cutting-edge alliances that span local, national, and international organizing efforts. Colombia was chosen to host the anti-land-grabbing meeting for these very reasons, in the hope that bearing witness to the history being made there could lead to political gains elsewhere… Social movements are building strong convergences with politically aligned scholars and policymakers to prepare for the next phases of their ongoing battle against land rush – not just in Colombia, but around the world.”

From land grabbing to agricultural reforms

Sylvia Kay of the Transnational Institute reflects on the findings of the conference in an article: “Tackling Inequality through Land Redistribution: Lessons from Colombia”. She argues:

It is time for an emancipatory land policy that puts land in the hands of small-scale food producers and puts indigenous peoples at the center. Colombia’s approach can show how we can tackle growing inequality through land redistribution?”

The importance of land redistribution as part of broader agricultural reforms was an ongoing theme at the conference. The previous blog reported on a dialogue session on this theme, where we explored the experiences of around twenty countries. As the recent IPES Food report, Land Squeeze, highlights, land inequalities are disrupting our food systems and undermining the livelihoods of many.

Follow the money

Another article by Caroline Cornier of the University of Manchester’s Global Development Institute reflects on the conference’s findings. She highlights the recurring theme of ‘following the money’ in land grab studies, and highlights some interesting sessions on ‘financialization’ as land becomes ‘the new gold’. She remembers how

“…..Ruth Hall, from the University of the Western Cape, stated that given the all-encompassing nature of today’s financial sector, adequately addressing land grabbing required becoming ‘better economists’. In particular, PhD students and younger scholars responded to this demand by contributing new perspectives on the new prominence of finance in rural development in the Global North and China. For example, Alex Heffron of Lancaster University investigated new, funded fencing of sheep farms in Wales to obtain carbon credits for timber production. Katherine Aske of the University of British Columbia highlighted the increasing distress and isolation of Canadian grain farmers given capital needs and over-indebtedness. And Madeleine Fairbairn, from the University of California, Santa Cruz, showed the financialization of American farmland, which is now for sale through crowdfunding programs open to all.”

Experiences from the field

After the conference, as several articles in this compilation mention, some of us visited a number of land reform sites. In addition to the Campesino Reserve Zone in the highlands of Venecia, mentioned in the openDemocracy and TNI pieces, we also visited another land reform project, formerly the home of a narco-drug lord, which had been appropriated and redistributed by the state after his conviction. This short video by Jovie Paredes from Erasmus University tells the story (and this post reflects on her experiences as a communications professional).

Ruth Hall and Ayanda Madlala of PLAAS in South Africa reflect on the experience of the visit from a southern African perspective in a blog entitled Colombia’s expropriation without compensation and lessons from South Africa. They conclude:

“There are things that South Africa and other countries would do well to learn from the Colombians, and that is the leadership and impetus of the executive branch to implement popular reforms, with a mandate for officials to quickly, to act decisively and in the interests of the people. of the landless. These are civil servants who have gotten the memo that they are no longer there to defend privilege, but to achieve social justice. There is a sharp line in unequal countries like ours, and incarceration and state deception only delay the social and political need for reform.”

Lessons learned in the run-up to ICARRD 2026

The conference was an important moment for sharing experiences between academics, activists and policy makers from around the world. But it was perhaps the field visits where the greatest learning took place. A few years ago there was a wave of comparative exchanges of lessons learned on land reform experiences worldwide. They all had their agendas. Some promoted the “willing seller-willing buyer” model, while others pushed for more radical redistributive reform.

Yet such opportunities have fostered debate and created networks. Lessons from Latin America, including Colombia, are important for southern Africa, where similarly large land disparities exist. Some of Zimbabwe’s experiences were shared at the conference, but I believe more global South-South exchange is needed on this crucial issue, especially in the run-up to ICARRD (the International Conference on Agrarian Reforms and Rural Development), which host will be organized. by Colombia and Brazil in collaboration with FAO in 2026.

Image credits: Federico ‘Boy’ Dominguez:

This blog was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

Post published in: Agriculture