Colombian Government signs land purchase agreement with cattle ranchers to implement rural reform

Last 8th of October, Colombian president, Gustavo Petro, signed an agreement to purchase 3 million hectares currently owned by cattle ranchers, represented by the president of the Colombian Federation of Cattle Ranchers (FEDEGAN), José Félix Lafaurie. This deal with FEDEGAN comes in response to Petro’s campaign promise to fully implement the peace agreements signed with the former FARC guerrilla, where the Comprehensive Rural Reform comes as first point. The World Bank and the United Nations representation in Colombia will supervise the compliance of this very promising agreement.

Beeld: ©Presidencia de la República
Mrs. Cecilia López, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, President Gustavo Petro, and Mr. José Félix Lafaurie, President of FEDEGAN.

The first of the peace agreements, the Comprehensive Rural Reform (CRR) establishes that the National Government will create a Land Fund for free distribution which will have 3 million hectares during the first 12 years of its creation. The purpose is to foster the democratization of access to land – in benefit of campesino communities (especially campesino women) with no or insufficient land and of the rural (and ethnic) communities most affected by misery, State abandonment and conflict.

Long-time rivals in the political arena, Petro and Lafaurie closed the deal last Saturday. This agreement acknowledges that in Colombia, historically, agrarian reform programs have been promised as "comprehensive" yet remained unmet. In consequence, it includes programmes oriented to improving productivity, infrastructure (construction and maintenance of the tertiary roads, among others), access to credits, technical assistance, associativity programmes and marketing support. The goal is to reduce the multidimensional poverty and poverty rates in the country, which is more acute in the rural areas.

Thanks to this initiative, the direct sale of 3 million hectares of land from cattle ranchers who voluntarily wish to sell to the national government will be possible. According to the document, FEDEGAN’s participation in this agreement constitutes an expression of good will that ratifies the commitment of both parties to the construction of territorial peace.

Furthermore, in line with the government's interests in fighting climate change, FEDEGAN has been promoting Intensive Forest Grazing Systems (FGS) for sustainable meat and dairy production. As stated in the document, these systems are an option aligned with the governmental purposes of land ownership democratization, that contribute to the economic and social recovery of the countryside. Both parties acknowledge that FGS enable: 1) increased productivity by greater stocking rate per hectare i.e. the same or more livestock in less area; 2) availability of additional fertile land for reforestation or agriculture (one million hectares under FGS would release between two and three million hectares for other activities, without affecting cattle production); 3) recovery of nature in livestock production areas (previously “paddocks”); 4) substantial increase in carbon sequestration capacity in livestock areas; 5) substantial increase in the nitrogen fixing capacity in the soil, leading to reduced chemical fertilizers’ use; 6) social fabric’s construction while improving the livelihoods of rural communities.

The agreement says that the massive adoption of FGS would not only represent a true "environmental revolution" but could reduce livestock land use to 20 million hectares and would free up 14 million hectares for reforestation and cropping.

The Colombian cadastre agency (IGAC) will determine minimum and maximum prices of each of the offers, taking the information of the multipurpose cadastre into consideration – another point of the peace agreements under implementation. However, besides direct purchase, the national government will also contemplate other sources for the acquisition of land to feed the Land Fund. These could include confiscated assets or state-owned land (known as baldíos). The World Bank and the United Nations representation in Colombia will supervise the compliance of this very promising agreement.

Author: Andrés Santana Bonilla
LNV-office, Bogotá