The World Bank’s sham conference on land and poverty

February 18, 2015


Every year for the last fifteen years, the World Bank has organised “The Conference on Land and Poverty,” ostensibly to discuss how to “improve land governance.” And every year, the World Bank Group has been accused of financing projects that support often brutal grabbing of land and other resources from local communities.

This year, the 16th such gathering will take place in Washington DC from March 23 to 27. And yet again, the hypocrisy of their claims to be leaders of just and fair land reform will be called out with opponents pointing to the impact of some of their recent investments in places like Uganda (2011), Honduras (2012), and Cambodia (2014).

The big question is whose interests the World Bank really serves. While they spend considerable time and money painting themselves as champions of the poor, the Bank has a battery of practices and policies that suggest a very different truth.

Firstly, patterns of investment show a systematic prioritization of the needs of large multi-national agricultural and financial corporations. Just last year, for example, the Bank created a $350 million facility to cover the risks of investments made by the Silverlands Fund, a private equity fund that has been accused of financing land grabs.

Secondly, through its high profile Doing Business report and accompanying advisory services, the Bank uses its considerable financial and political might to force countries to adopt “business-friendly” reforms, which focus on creating conditions that make it as easy as possible for agribusiness giants to get access to developing countries’ land and natural resources.

Thirdly, by commoditizing land and encouraging farmers to get credits through mortgaging their property, the Bank does not protect famers’ fair and durable access to this crucial asset.

For the Bank’s PR rhetoric to hold water, it would need a far stronger focus on the needs of smallholder famers, who currently produce up to 80 percent of the food in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. This would require measures to protect existing land users, including anti-eviction laws and recognition of customary systems.

The crucial role of smallholder farming in fighting poverty and bringing sustainable development has recently been highlighted by UN organizations such as FAO and IFAD. In a world where economic and food price instability is the rule, sustained access to land is a prerequisite to ensure livelihood support for family farmers and pastoralists.

Among other benefits, sustaining smallholder agriculture will help preserve the environment, enhance biodiversity, increase rural employment, and help realize inclusive development. These goals are threatened by the Bank’s vision of land as a marketable commodity and by its efforts to enable corporations’ exploitation of natural resources.

We therefore call on all stakeholders, including the United Nations, civil society organizations, farmers groups, and trade unions, to reject the Bank’s sham Conference on Land and Poverty and denounce its attempt to influence land governance for the benefits of a few.

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Trump: Join us in connecting the dots

The election of Donald Trump has left millions, maybe even billions of us in shock. Although we may be looking with bewilderment at the US today, we should remember that he is not an isolated phenomenon. He is a symptom of a sickness that is raging all around the world. People are hurting, disillusioned with mainstream politics and increasingly angry at a neoliberal economic system that is destroying lives and the planet with increasing ferocity. And in their desperation they are willing to consider extreme measures to make themselves heard.

Demagogues thrive amid fear and insecurity, which is why they paint the world in such dark terms. It’s a strategy that has put right-wing populist leaders in power in an Axis of Egos: from Brazil to Turkey, the Philippines to Russia, authoritarian strongmen like Trump are on the rise. Meanwhile, many centrist liberals, like the Democratic Party in the US, have been so intent on rejecting left-wing populist solutions, and so sure of their ability to beat anyone running on a white supremacy platform with its misogyny and homophobia, that they opened the door for Mr. Trump to walk straight through. Their preference is always to maintain the status quo that has served them so well.

As dangerous as the election of Trump is for the world, we can also see in this moment the truth that we simply cannot rely on the electoral political system to save us, because it is designed to prevent the fundamental change we need. Its own survival is at stake and it will marshal all its champions and resources to defend itself and stop the emergence of a new system. But when we work, or continue working for change from the ground up; when we build or keep on building new ways of living and being with each other where we live; when we construct or keep constructing the future we know is possible with our own hands, rather than hoping distant leaders will build it for us, we find our true power. Finally, when we combine that with the unbending hope that has powered change through the ages, we know our power has meaning.

A 400-year-old economic system is dying and another is struggling to be born. Change on this scale is not going to be smooth or easy. We should not be surprised, then, that moments like this — where the establishment is dealt a body blow — become more and more common. We can despair when that blow comes in the form of right-wing extremists, or we can step-up. We are the ones we are looking for, who can and must grasp the opportunities in these crises that are undoubtedly there.

So it’s time to come together, taking time to remember the earth. Remember all the successful struggles for justice that came before us, and imagine all those to come. Remember that social movements are growing all over the world and realising the common struggle. Remember life. Then, organise. Find each other and help midwife the inevitable transition that brings forth from the ashes of neoliberal capitalism a system that works for the good of all life on Mother Earth. This is not just activism; this is our responsibility as human beings alive as this all unfolds.

This is why we are here.