A snapshot of the ongoing dispossession of small farmers

The following is an excerpt from Asia’s agrarian reform in reverse: laws taking land out of small farmers’ hands, published by GRAIN.

Over time, peasants have been able to win some legal protections that provided some basic safeguards to maintain their access to lands.

But the legacy of these struggles is under attack. Today, small farmers in Asia are being squeezed onto ever smaller parcels of land. Across the continent, farmland is being gobbled up for dams, mines, tourism projects and large-scale agriculture, with scant regard for the people living off those lands. Farms that peasant families have cared for for generations are being paved over for new highways or real estate development as cities expand. Long-standing government promises to redistribute land more fairly have been broken – in many places, governments are taking land away from peasant farmers.

Land concentration in Asia is higher now than it has ever been. Just 6% of Asia’s farm owners hold around two-thirds of its farmland. Many of these landowners are politically connected elites, as is the case in the Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

As this concentration increases, one consequence is the eruption of conflicts over land throughout the continent. Peasant protests against land grabs have become a regular sight on the streets of major cities like Phnom Penh and Manila. The court systems in China and Vietnam are backlogged with thousands of rural land conflict cases. And militarised repression is a harsh daily reality in many places where communities are resisting land grabbing, from West Papua to West Bengal.

… Free trade… agreements play an important role in bringing about laws and policies that facilitate the transfer of lands from small farmers to big agribusiness. They do so both indirectly, by encouraging specialised, vertically integrated production of export commodities, and directly by obliging governments to remove barriers to foreign investment, including in agriculture.