Developing Countries

Who can forget the harrowing images of people living on the streets of Calcutta, the shanty towns of Latin America, kids living in the sewers of Rio, families living on the rubbish dumps of Manila. "In Central America and in the Caribbean, where as many as seventy percent of the children are undernourished, at least half of the agricultural land (and the best land at that) grows crops for export not food for locals. In the Sahelian countries of sub-Saharan Africa, exports of cotton and peanuts in the early 1970's actually increased drought, and hunger loomed."

"In Columbia, according to a 1960 study, the largest landowners control 70% of all agricultural land, but actually cultivate only six percent."

The conditions in Haiti are even worse. "The majority of the utterly impoverished peasants ravage the once green mountain slopes in near futile efforts to grow food to survive... These mountain peasants must be seen as exiles from their birthright--some of the world's richest agricultural land. The rich valley lands belong to a handful of elite who seek dollars in order to live an imported lifestyle, and for their American partners. These lands are thus made to produce largely low nutrition food and feed crops (sugar, coffee, cocoa and alfalfa for cattle) exclusively for export. Grazing land is export orientated too. Recently, U.S. firms began to fly Texas cattle into Haiti for grazing and re-export to American franchised hamburger restaurants."

"A world bank study of Columbia states that large numbers of farm families try to eke out an existence on too little land, often on slopes of 45 degrees or more, while Columbia's good level land is in the hands of absentee land lords who use it to graze cattle, raise animal feed and even flowers for export to the United States. ($18 million worth in 1975)"

"In Africa, vast tracts of geologically old sediments, perfectly suitable for permanent crops such as grazing grasses or trees, have instead been torn up for planting cotton and peanuts for export. In parts of Senegal, peanut mono-culture has devastated the soils." 1

Multi national companies and agribusinesses make this situation worse. These companies are progressively shifting their production of vegetables, fruits, flowers and meat out of the industrialised countries in search of cheaper land and labour in the developing nations. Under present land tenure conditions, this is inevitable and will become even worse.

This intolerable situation can however easily be reversed, simply through higher land use charges.

When land price is collected by government through higher land dues, it becomes immediately unprofitable to hold more land than can be put to use. This brings numerous unused or partly used sites onto the market. Farming costs are cut in two ways, undermining agri-businesses and multi-nationals at the same time.

First, the price of land comes down, so too the size of farm mortgages and the amount of interest paid on loans to purchase land.

Second, much of the under used land coming on the market would be on the outskirts of cities and towns. Market gardeners and orchidists could occupy it, bringing food producers and consumers closer together, reducing transport costs. (Not to mention the environmental spinoffs.)

Lower land prices, lower farm costs, and simply just the increased availability of land, will enable local producers to undercut any multinational or agribusiness that might try to import food that could be grown locally. This would put an end to the absurd site of developing countries producing one or two crops for export dollars, whilst most of the population struggle to feed themselves.

For Example:

"There is an area of farmland, half the size of India, that lies uncultivated in Brazil because its owners treat it as financial investment. Meanwhile, twenty million Brazilian rural peasants wander landless. Brazil's richest 1% it is estimated, own 15 times as much land as the poorest 56% of Brazilian farmers put together. In the Philippines, agribusinesses produce mono-culture crops like sugar, cotton and pineapples for export, pushing 12 million settlers into other areas, usually forests. In Kenya, ex army officers are rewarded with land estates up to 1.5 million acres in area." 2

Remember the 1989 famine in Ethiopia and the Sudan. In that same year, Ethiopia exported a record quantity of green beans to the UK. The Sudan continued to sell its yearly 400 000 tons of sorghum to the E.C for animal feed. This was at the height of one of the worst famines ever witnessed in these countries.

Land price is the enemy of developing countries.


  1. Six Myths About World Hunger, Francis Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins. Social Survey Journal of the Institue of Social Order. March 1977
  2. New Internationalist Magazine

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