18 October 2021
Original source: DevelopmentAid
By Ana Benoliel Coutinho
The global community celebrated World Food Day on 16 October. The theme this year was the four betters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations which refer to better production, better nutrition, better environment, and better life. Land is a primary resource in agriculture that connects these four betters. Yet for years it has been used inappropriately, being grabbed and simply exploited for the sake of revenue without any consideration for its importance for biodiversity, healthy food, and people’s wellbeing.
In an exclusive interview with DevelopmentAid, Dr. Viktor Yarovyi, an expert in economics, uses the example of Ukraine to explain how to fight against land grabbing, the negative impact of this, and how appropriate land use can contribute to the four betters, thus helping rural areas and the environment to thrive.
Land – an element uniting the ‘four betters’
Modernized agriculture affects land in many ways. It changes the landscape often making it uniform and ecologically impoverished because of the monoculture that involves only one type of crop being grown across large surface areas. Monoculture has a negative impact on the soil and water resources while its use of agrochemicals has serious negative consequences for human nutrition and even health. On the other hand, more diversified production leads to more diversified diets ensuring people obtain all the necessary nutrients. It also helps to reduce the need for chemicals since natural processes help the producer to manage weeds and pests through the smart combination of crop and plant species.
Reducing the use of agrochemicals and diversifying agricultural systems will help to restore biodiversity both on farms and beyond their borders thus contributing to a better environment. All this embedded in the socio-economic and cultural context contributes to better living standards in rural areas.
Land, however, has become a marketable commodity for investors and it has thus been torn from its social and cultural context. Such an attitude has led to so-called land grabbing which usually refers to capturing control over large tracts of lands and other natural resources by private or public investors who buy or lease farmland for extractive purposes, e.g., to produce agricultural commodities. Such an approach to land has been documented to cause ‘land alienation from local communities, human rights violations, and loss of livelihoods and culture’. In an exclusive interview with DevelopmentAid, Dr. Viktor Yarovyi from the Institute for Economics and Forecasting NAS Ukraine who is also a member of the Knowledge Platform – Agro Development and Rural Innovation, KP – AD&RI (a non-governmental organization) shed some light on how the work of KP – AD&RI is helping to address land grabbing in Ukraine.
“By land grabbing, we usually mean the acquisition of the control over the land accompanied by the exclusion of land from local and rural development and the failure to meet the principles of responsible investments. I might be the landowner and there are millions in Ukraine but in reality, many of them have rented out their land for 50 years to corporations. So, they don’t decide anything,” notes Viktor.
He explains that although not very typical for Ukraine, in many countries including European nations, it is often because of the lack of sufficient knowledge or the means to initiate farming as an economic activity that people sell or rent their land to entities such as pension or investment funds and banks, none of whom have any relation to agriculture and local communities. While this process is usually legal, Viktor also gives an example of a criminal case of land grabbing:
“In Ukraine, land grabbing can take such a radical form where the officials involved in registering the land property deliberately alter the data and one day, the real landowner might find out that there is someone gathering the yields on his property and there are people on the border of the property who will not let him in.”
Viktor continues by stressing that even legally approved agreements concluded between landowners and corporations contradict the whole purpose of land which is not only the physical base for production but is also a spatial resource. Land grabbing goes against the entire logic of sustainable development as it deteriorates the social function of land:
“Land has a social function in rural areas, where small family farmers live and work the land which provides them with food, employment, and income,” he states.
Small farmers and peasants are usually oriented towards local consumers first which is not the case of large producers who are export-oriented:
“In Ukraine, there are two sectors in agriculture: private and corporate. Private includes small producers with pieces of land of approximately 2-5 ha or backyard farms. These produce more than 80% of all the fruits and vegetables in the country whilst the corporate sector is mainly interested in the production of wheat, corn, colza, and sunflower – crops with high export potential.”
Viktor goes on to explain that the production of crops for export represents an intensive monoculture production system which brings health problems because of the agrochemicals used, water pollution, and biodiversity loss including the disappearance of bees. It is also an ‘externally controlled’ production that is detached from rural people in the villages as usually those who rent the land do not have any connection to the community:
“Usually very few people from the village are working the land. They are the landowners but what do they have? Just a rent which is relatively low and not sufficient to support their families,” he adds.
Agroecology to restore the social function of land
Responsible land use and governance are one of the 10 FAO elements of agroecology which envisions the sustainable use of natural resources on the one hand and the restoration of the social function of land on the other. With the agroecology being practiced by some small producers, KP – AD&RI works to gather and provide evidence on its potential to local decision-makers. Viktor refers to those farmers applying principles of agroecology in a community:
“Many people earn their living by farming. They produce a diversity of fruits and vegetables, and they have quite a holistic approach to their production by e.g., using the manure of the livestock for fertilization. They have a more agroecological approach to production. That is what we call the social function of land which provides healthy food to local people.”
Thus, in late 2019 a stakeholders’ forum was organized resulting in a joint resolution and recommendations being addressed to decision-makers. It was supported by the Ukrainian Network of Rural Development (consisting of farmers associations, researchers, NGOs), European Coordination Via Campesina, the Institute for Economics and Forecasting NAS Ukraine, and Agroecology Fund:
“The purpose was to raise awareness and provide opportunities to farmers to be heard by policy-makers and representatives of international organizations in Ukraine that help the government to implement development projects often lacking what we see as agroecology,” explains Viktor.
Viktor emphasized that the forum had huge repercussions on the network and also on the perception of the issue of land grabbing and agroecology among decision-makers. According to him, for a very long time agroecology was absent from political discourse whereas it is now starting to feature:
“We were heard – there was a reaction. Little by little we see our recommendations or at least some parts of them being integrated in the policy proposals. It is a gradual process,” notes Viktor.
There are also several projects in place as a continuation to the process. For instance, last year the Platform collaborated with six hromadas or territorial communities for which it conducted a socio-economic analysis of their potential with recommendations for their development strategies. Through this analysis, it aims to show the socio-economic benefits of agroecology for smallholders and the community with the FAO Tool for Agroecological Performance Evaluation (TAPE) currently being tested as an instrument that can help municipalities to measure the positive socio-economic and environmental effects of agroecology.