International Activists, Experts Question World Bank Land Reform

On April 18th, Representatives of landless people's organizations from developing nations and international experts criticized World Bank market based land reform programs for failing to help the landless in Brazil, Thailand, South Africa and elsewhere, in spite of Bank claims of innovation and progress. For more information visit

"The massive concentration of land ownership in the hands of a privileged few keeps millions in poverty and drives large scale destruction of natural resources around the world," said Environmental Defense anthropologist Stephan Schwartzman. "The Bank should take a hard look at what its projects are really doing if it wants to address the problem."

"World Bank market land reform makes the rich richer and the poor worse off," said Dr. Lesiba Matasuang of the Landless People's Movement of South Africa, at a news conference held this morning at the National Press Club. Grassroots groups, environmentalists and land reform experts from a dozen countries held a seminar on the Bank's projects this week in Washington, D.C.

Current Bank policy favors giving the poor credit to buy land on the free market, rather than supporting the redistribution of land by government agencies. The Bank points to projects in Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia and Thailand as proof that land markets can work for the poorest of the poor.

But Adalberto Martins of Brazil's Landless Rural Workers' Movement (MST), strongly disagrees. MST mass protest has forced Brazil into distributing an area three times the size of Belgium to the poor since 1995, and the government asked for Bank funds to ease the pressure. "The Bank and the Brazilian government are selling the poor a cruel illusion — that they can get land without a struggle," said Martins. "It isn't working. People who had nothing before now have nothing — and are in debt for it."

Anan Ganjanapan, of the Chiang Mai University in Thailand, worked on the Bank's first of three land titling projects in Thailand nearly 20 years ago and has closely followed the results.

"The major effects of the Bank's projects in the last two decades are increased conflicts among communities, and increased land speculation by large landowners," Ganjanapan said. "Our communities are not interested only in individual land titles, but the Bank's projects have never contemplated collective land tenure."

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