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Halt US Efforts to Privatize Land and Create Land Markets Around the World

Maungdaw, Myanmar - Farm laborers and livestock in a paddy field. Image: FAO / Hkun La

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Join us and take action! Stand with the local communities, civil society organizations, and Indigenous People who resist the privatization of their land. Call on the United States Congress to stop the US from driving the privatization of land around the world.


SUBJECT: Halt US Efforts to Privatize Land and Create Land Markets Around the World

Chairman James Risch, United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Chairman Richard Shelby, United States Senate Committee on Appropriations
Chairman Eliot Engel, United States House Foreign Affairs Committee
Chairwoman Nita Lowey, United States House Appropriations Committee

Chairman John Barrasso, Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management International Operations, and Bilateral International Development
Chairman Todd Young, Subcommittee on Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions, and International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy
Chairwoman Karen Bass, Subcommittee Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations
Chairman Lindsey Graham, Subcommittee State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs

Dear Chairwomen and Chairmen,

I am writing to express my deep concern about the role of the United States in driving efforts to privatize land around the world. Through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United States directs and financially incentivizes governments to privatize public and customary land, putting it into "productive use," in the name of development. As evidenced by the Oakland Institute’s recent report,Driving Dispossession: The Global Push to "Unlock the Economic Potential of Land," these misguided efforts are threatening millions of livelihoods while wasting billions of US taxpayer dollars in the process.

Whether it is on legally recognized public or customary land, billions of people rely on communally managed farmland, pastures, forests, or savannas for their livelihoods. USAID and the World Bank’s own research has shown that customary systems provide adequate tenure security and that past efforts to privatize these systems have often resulted in devastating social and economic impacts. In a 2019 paper, the World Bank acknowledged that "customary land has proven to be highly resilient, continuous and flexible" and that safeguarding [customary land] rights should be a "development priority." A 2020 USAID review on land and resource governance noted a lack of rigorous evidence, impact evaluations, and long-term studies in the sector and acknowledged major knowledge gaps.

The Oakland Institute’s report points to extensive research, which confirms the lack of evidence that the creation of land markets and private titling programs have any positive development outcome. Evidence abounds that these efforts instead further marginalize the poor, concentrate land in the hands of a few, overexploit natural resources, and increase carbon emissions through the expansion of ranching and monocultures. People around the world oppose US-led land privatization efforts. In Sri Lanka, through the Alliance for Economic Democracy, 53 civil society groups and academics strongly reject the proposed US$480 million MCC compact, warning it will result in the loss of livelihoods for farmers and exacerbate poverty. In Ukraine, the creation of a land market was the condition for over US$5 billion of financial support to the country by the IMF and the World Bank whereas three-quarters of the population opposed this move. Ukrainian civil society and academics have warned that the decision will benefit corrupt oligarchs, not the economy, and leave farmers landless.

Regardless, the US financed agencies continue to ignore the will of the people and to funnel millions of dollars of taxpayer money into such projects or into financial support conditioned to governments privatizing their land. Given your oversight of these agencies, I urge you to hold them accountable by halting all initiatives that privatize land and create land markets.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter,