Uneven Ground: Land inequality at the heart of polarised food systems | Land Portal

European Commission

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In most countries, land inequality is growing. Worse, new measures and analysis published by the International Land Coalition show that land inequality is significantly higher than previously reported. New measurements show that the top 10% of the rural population captures 60% of agricultural land value, while the bottom 50% of the rural populations only control 3 % of land value. Compared to traditional census data, this proves an increase in rural land inequality of 41%

Inequality is detrimental to the stability and development of sustainable economic systems and that it undermines the health of democracies. Land inequality is no exception: it is central to wealth inequality, political and social inequality, including gender inequality, in particular in agrarian societies. Land inequality also underlies contemporary global crises and trends, as reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Land inequality affects the food systems, widening the gap between constituencies who depend on land for their livelihoods and those benefiting from large-scale land investments. A key outcome of current trends is an increasingly polarised agri-food system, with growing inequalities between the smallest landholders and the largest, and accelerating with the emergence of mega-farms in terms both of land size and value of production.

On one side are the globally dominant food systems controlled by a small number of corporations and financial institutions. This sector is driven by the logic of return on large-scale investments through corporate governance and industrial production systems aiming for economies of scale. This involves a degree of detachment of decision-making from the specificity of any particular piece of land or place – or “farming without farmers” (Wegerif and Anseeuw, 2020). At the other end of the spectrum are locally dominant agri-food systems, largely made up of small-scale producers and family farmers connected to particular pieces of land. These producers rely on established and low-external-input agricultural practices and link primarily to local and territorial markets involving many similar-scaled owner-operated enterprises in trading, processing, and retailing.

In reality these are not completely separate systems; there are many points of intersection, but they represent, in the scale and logic of their production, two approaches that are moving further and further apart. This is a highly unequal contest, as powerful actors will not only continue to accumulate land and take over production and market space but also exert influence to shape the policy environment and infrastructure in their favour.

Strengthening land tenure rights among local farmers and communities contributes to food systems based on individual or collective community choices. Land tenure rights empower farmers to decide on efficient, scheduled, appropriate and suitable cropping system and serve as a strong foundation for economic empowerment. Secure land rights are the basis for human dignity of all land-dependent communities, including Indigenous Peoples, pastoralists, local communities and landless farmers forming the pathway for right to food among these communities and beyond.

We will present the ILC-led research project and engagement in the preparatory process for upcoming the United Nations Food Systems Summit. 



Christophe Larose
Head of Sector, Sustainable Agriculture, INTPA.DGA2.F.3 Sustainable Agri-Food systems and Fisheries - European Commission

Etienne Coyette
Policy Officer, Land Governance, Food Systems & Climate Change, DG INTPA Unit F3 - European Commission

Ward Anseeuw
Researcher, Knowledge, Learning and Innovation, International Land Coalition and CIRAD

Rukshana Nanayakkara
Global Policy and Advovacy Expert - International Land Coalition

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