“They must know abroad what is happening in Colombia, the people must be informed so that they can put pressure on the politicians of my country.” Liliana Marcela Vargas Vásquez does not mince her words as she makes her heartfelt appeal, before recounting how the land-grabbing phenomenon is spreading in her native land.
A Slow Food member for several years, Liliana works in Bogota for an association that is fighting to defend food sovereignty, the Asociación de Trabajo Interdisciplinario (ATI). Right now, she’s getting ready to travel to Turin for the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, where she’ll be taking part in the conference Hungry for Land on Saturday October 27.
“The situation is very serious in Colombia,” continues Liliana. “With ATI and the Coalición Nacional en contra del acaparamiento de tierras y territorios, to which ATI belongs, we’re working to inform citizens about the phenomenon, which is gradually taking fertile land away from local communities. We produce documents and videos, update a blog and organize meetings like the one a few weeks ago that brought together dozens of organizations of campesinos in Bogota.”
Who is stealing land from the Colombian farmers? The guilty parties are always the same, the ones who are snapping up arable land at dirt-cheap prices from governments around the world: the pension funds, investment companies and multinationals in search of big stretches of land to plant with food and biofuel monocultures.
The mining industry also has a prominent role in Colombia, with devastating social and environmental consequences. “8.5 million hectares are already in the hands of the mining industry, and the situation could worsen further,” says Liliana. “These companies have already expressed their interest in 30 million hectares, a surface area equal to a quarter of the whole size of Colombia!”
In this country, as elsewhere in the world, the land-grabbing phenomenon has grown exponentially in recent years, but in Colombia specifically it joins an already very complex situation, with a long history of land ownership being concentrated in the hands of very few people. This is the realm of latifundismo, with large landed estates run by rich landowners. According to an ATI study (available in Spanish), 0.4 percent of Colombian landowners currently hold 60 percent of the fertile land. This situation, highlighted by Fred Pearce in his book The Land Grabbers (Beacon Press, 2011), is the result of long years of anti-guerrilla fighting, encouraged and financed by politicians, entrepreneurs and drug traffickers. Says Liliana: “In the Llanos Orientales region, especially, the land-grabbing phenomenon is profoundly interwoven with the armed conflict and has particularly violent overtones.”
“We want to keep working more and more in a network with other associations in order to make sure everyone knows what is going on,” she concludes. “Land grabbing in Colombia is part of a wider problem, which concerns everyone, because it threatens the environment, food sovereignty and the very life of local communities, on a global scale.”
Slow Food is promoting a campaign against land grabbing. To find out more, visit www.slowfood.com/landgrabbing
Learn more at the conference “Hungry for Land” at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre in Turin, on Saturday October 27 at 3 pm.
Also speaking with Liliana Vargas in the Sala Rossa in the Lingotto: Karin Ulmer (APRODEV), Anne Van Schaik (Friends of the Earth Europe) and Mwanahamis Salimu (Oxfam Tanzania). The discussion will be moderated by Stefano Liberti, journalist and author of Land grabbing (minimum fax, 2011).
The meeting will be open to all Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre visitors, with simultaneous translation into Italian, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese.
Sign Oxfam’s petition to stop land grabbing.