Baba Sillah a PhD candidate in Global Studies at Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan. His research investigates the political-economic and socio complexities of depeasantization, by situating the crisis within the current phenomenon of land-grab. More generally, his research lies at the intersection of agrarian studies, comparative politics, political governance, economic development, political ecology, state-society relations and global capitalism. He worked in the Liberian government as Assistant Minister/Special Assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He is currently a member of the following academic societies: Japan Association of African Studies, Japan Society for Afrasian Studies, and the Liberian Studies Association.
Half Victory: Taking land rights advocacy beyond an end in itself
In the last decade, the discourse on land-grab has become more animated. This results from new waves of massive land acquisitions for agricultural uses, triggered by the 2007-08 global food and financial (Liberti 2013). Land-grab is described as the process whereby corporations, states or individuals acquire through leases, concessions, or purchases, sizable land areas amounting to 10,000 hectares or more in a third country and of a long-term nature, often for 30-99 years, utilized for the production of food for export (GRAIN 2009). In response, there has been a growing number of advocacy groups opposing land-grab and defending the land rights and livelihoods of rural people. More significantly, they have sought to reform governance policies and negotiate better deals for local people. But what do land rights advocacy groups do after they have successfully campaigned against land concessions that threaten to dispossess rural peasant communities, and land governance systems that promote state aggression toward communal landownership? Do they just fold up and retreat into oblivion, transition to other countries with new or persisting land rights issues, or do they remain and change the focus of their advocacy to mobilize empowerment support for peasants and smallholders? In Liberia, land rights advocacy led to the passage of a new Land Rights Act 2018. The Act protects communal land rights. This milestone was made possible by the combined effort of local and international land rights advocacy organizations. However, peasants and small-holders farmers continue to confront continuing vulnerabilities to food insecurity due to underproductivity. Most of the country’s staple, rice, remains to be imported from Southeast Asia. Post-land rights advocacy is needed to address underproductivity. Such advocacy should be about non-market driven, soft policy interventions aimed at spurring growth in peasant productivity and promoting the sustainability of peasants’ livelihoods. Particularly, advocacy should be about pressuring governments to increase allocations in their national budgets for agricultural inputs including seeds, fertilizers, tractors among others, for smallholders. Instead of waiting for governments to capriciously espouse these policy interventions, they should form part of the strategic goals of agrarian advocates moving forward.
Affiliation: Sophia University