Concentration of land control and land grabbing in Colombia : dynamics of conflict and development : the case of Baldíos in Altillanura

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Title: Concentration of land control and land grabbing in Colombia : dynamics of conflict and development : the case of Baldíos in Altillanura
Author: Torres Mora, Álvaro Germán
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta, Politiikan ja talouden tutkimuksen laitos
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political and Economic Studies
Helsingfors universitet, Statsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Institutionen för politik och ekonomi
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2019
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Discipline: Kehitysmaatutkimus
Development Studies
Abstract: This master thesis addresses the concentration of land ownership and land use in Colombia. I focus especially on unallocated state lands, which are called Baldíos. The study on the usage of these lands is important for many reasons, one being the lack of critical studies on their grabbing by elites. Officially, Baldíos should be used in land redistribution programs for landless peasants and other rural poor populations. This should take through an administrative process wherein the State issues property titles to landless peasants; however, as the research done for this thesis uncovered, there are serious problems and wrongdoings in this process. Theoretically, the thesis criticizes the overall development model that is seen as explaining the problematic land grabbing of the Baldíos in the studied Colombian Altillanura region. The crippling effects of the 50 years of armed conflict and the increasing demand for agrofuels receive also critical analysis, given their centrality as processes that are intermeshed with the overall, problematic developmental process. The outcomes of this master thesis are derived from fieldwork conducted in Colombia during July, 2017. The research material consists of 1) various interviews with representatives of land administrative offices, 2) a database that I collected on the extension of different types of cash crops, allocation of property rights, distribution of Baldíos, and numbers on forced displacement. This database was systematically analyzed using various methods and statistical software programs. I also produced a cartography that geographically opens up the key relations between the variables. Thereafter, qualitative, quantitative and geographical methods support the findings of this research. The key analytical concepts used are primitive accumulation, accumulation by dispossession and social capital. I explain how the use of these concepts is fruitful for critical understanding a so-called ‘modern’ dynamics that result however in violent scenarios of land grabbing and sophisticated but predatory practices, such as legal trickery, creation of shell companies and the illegitimate use of public resources. Through these analytical concepts, I relate my findings with important, contemporary global dynamics, such as the promotion of agroindustries in places formerly dominated by family farming. Such projects require considerable investment and use of natural resources. As I show, this may imply the acquisition of land or its control through mechanisms other than ownership. The findings suggest that the processes of expanding cash crops, forced displacement and grabbing Baldíos are interrelated. This holds true especially in the Altillanura region, where I found that: 1. Large investors are prone to take advantage of forced displacement by purchasing the dispossessed lands at low prices and thereby making large profits. 2. Agroindustrial actors have been grabbing former Baldíos; a practice that is completely prohibited. This is made possible by using complex extra-legal mechanisms, such as the creation of various fictional juridical identities to purchase these lands. And finally, that 3. Social influence and status are still valuable assets for accessing lands in Colombia, also illegally. The conclusions explain how these circumstances are due to pervasive armed confrontation and pressures from international markets. These are developmental problems resulting from a model that sees small farmers as an inconvenient and incapable mass of people that uses obsolescent and ineffective methods of agriculture. Currently, agroindustries turn these peasants’ social status and possibilities to that of mere salaried workers. This is unfortunate, as I explain, since small-scale agriculture can be profitable, and should be given more priority in the developmental policies allocating state lands.
Subject: Land grabbing
land concentration
primitive accumulation
accumulation by dispossession
cash crops

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