Agrarian Justice

GOALS: To raise awareness amongst decision-makers and the public in Europe about the human rights impacts of large scale land acquisition in developing countries and build support for the demands of rural peoples’ organisations.

TNI’s Agrarian Justice team had a prolific 2013, producing almost 20 publications on land grabbing, and water security, as well as a film. It brought together unprecedented international alliances of academics and activists to analyse and elaborate the concept of food sovereignty. And it brought popular attention to the little known phenomenon of land-grabbing in Europe. Our team is now a leading adviser to peasant and fishing communities around the world.

Raising awareness on land grabbing

TNI, together with the ‘Hands Off the Land’ alliance and the European Coordination of Via Campesina, produced an important study in 2013 looking at the issue of land grabs in Europe, Land concentration, land grabbing and people’s struggles in Europe. While much of the global discussion on land grabbing tends to assume it is only happening in Africa or other parts of the South, and is perpetrated only by China or the Gulf States, the study has been key to broadening the debate by showing that the problem transcends the North-South divide and that there is a global trend towards greater concentration of land ownership in the hands of agribusiness.

The study involved a team of grassroots researchers, academics and development practitioners, and covered 13 European countries, where it found accelerating concentration of land ownership and shrinking access to land for small-scale food producers.

The report attracted a considerable amount of media attention, and according to contributors struck a particular chord in Italy, Austria, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Serbia. It has become a useful campaigning tool for people in Europe pressing their governments to keep land in the hands of small-scale or peasant food producers. It also provided a strong evidential basis for greater public solidarity between beleaguered small-scale agricultural producers in both the North and the South.

As a follow-up to the advocacy support for small farmers in the South, TNI also facilitated the production of a film, Seeds of Discontent, documenting the impact of large scale land acquisitions involving European pension fund investments in Niassa province in Mozambique. The film was released on the eve of the negotiations on responsible agricultural investment led by the Committee on Food Security at the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in Rome, highlighting what is wrong with current agricultural investment.


Technical support for social movements

TNI provided vital technical support for small-scale food producer organisations participating in the multi-stakeholder negotiations on responsible agricultural investment at the FAO, including representatives of peasant, pastoralist, fisher folk, and indigenous people’s organisations. By analysing official negotiating texts and workshopping a number of TNI briefings geared for knowledge empowerment and building advocacy capacity, TNI helped these social movements to articulate their positions in this premier global food security policy-making forum.

Alternative land policy for Burma

The TNI agrarian justice programme teamed up with the Institute’s long-standing Burma project to provide support to land rights activists from diverse ethnic groups and regions in their deliberations over land rights, government land policy, and visions of development alternatives that would be responsive to the needs of small-scale food producers. The joint team has been working with Karen ethnic rights activists on land policy, as well as with land rights activists from across the country who recently formed a new multi-ethnic network called ‘Land in Our Hands’.

Food sovereignty: an alternative narrative

TNI co-hosted a popular and productive international conference on the topic of food sovereignty at Yale University in September 2013. It brought together 200 leading scholars, researchers and activists from rural movements across the world, including both supporters and critics of the idea of food sovereignty, to foster a critical dialogue on the concept.

The conference produced over 80 papers, a special issue of an academic journal dedicated to critical agrarian studies, and a range of video materials, which TNI helped to disseminate and publicise. The construction of the conference as a dialogue meant that these materials do not simply preach to the converted, but squarely address some of the most difficult dilemmas in the field. It also helped to flesh out a concept that has long been a rural people’s movement slogan but had not yet been elaborated in such a way that it would guide real policy debate and change.

“… TNI has been a vital part to the global social movements in our struggles for social, climate, and economic justice, food sovereignty and an alternative world that has at its heart the interests of the people. From the insightful analysis and publications to the collaborative campaigns, TNI’s critical contributions to the development of both critiques and proposals have been of great value to peasants, small farmers and social movements. … More power to our joint struggles!

Henry Saragih, Chairperson, Serikat Petani Indonesia (SPI) – Indonesian Peasants Union