Skip to main content Skip to footer

New Report Asks, Do Land Titles Help Poor Farmers?

July 22, 2020

By John C. Cannon

  • A new report by the Oakland Institute, a policy think tank, outlines cases of land privatization around the world.

  • The report’s authors caution that privatizing land, especially when it has been traditionally managed communally, could sideline the interests of Indigenous groups and local communities.

  • They cite evidence that governments and agencies see private land titles as a way not to help poor farmers, but rather to “unlock the economic potential of the land.”

Companies and governments are pushing for the privatization of land around the world as a way to get at economically valuable resources, according to a recent report from the Oakland Institute, a policy think tank based in California.

But such moves can disenfranchise Indigenous and local communities, without regard for the support the land provides to their livelihoods, said Frederic Mousseau, the report’s lead author.

“[In] many places around the world, you have so many uses of land beyond the notion of economic value,” Mousseau, policy director at the Oakland Institute, said in an interview. Communally managed spaces provide wood, medicines, game and fish to these groups, he said.

“When [proponents of privatization] talk about unlocking the economic value of land,” Mousseau added, “they don’t talk about this value.”

A woman takes her canoe through Inle Lake in Myanmar. Image © FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri.

The report examines case studies in six countries where politicians and agencies have pressed for individual land titles to “unlock the economic potential” of communally and customarily held lands. The authors include examples of what amounts to land grabbing by governments, such as the threats to Indigenous reserves from the highest office in Brazil.

“There is no [I]ndigenous territory where there aren’t minerals,” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said, according to a report by Survival International cited by the Oakland Institute. “Gold, tin and magnesium are in these lands, especially in the Amazon, the richest area in the world. I’m not getting into this nonsense of defending land for Indians.”

“All those [Indigenous and conservation] reserves stymie our development,” Bolsonaro said in The New York Times.