Access to land is a vital necessity for large population sectors. However, its property has concentrated rapidly forcing migrations and conditioning the use of the land. It is a dimension of the unbridled process of concentration of wealth prevailing almost everywhere in the world. How to tackle this challenge so that planned popular settlements can be established and family agriculture extended?
Neoliberal governments, though also some progressive ones, have only focused their priorities on defining macroeconomic policies that would prevail in the country. Of course, these are very important as they condition both the course and way of functioning of the country. However, political battle does not end there. It is also strategic to adopt measures that directly support popular sectors, both because it is indispensable to revert huge injustices and punishments and because it is imperative to restructure the social and productive foundation of national development. That is adding a new pillar to sustain the course towards the good living of all and the firm protection of the environment.
In this context, it is necessary to secure access to land to: (a) Establish planned popular settlements and urbanize the existent ones, together with urban development and provision of basic services such as drinking water, sewage, environmental sanitation, electricity, transportation as well as spaces for productive activities. And (b) to extend family agriculture, which is the main supplier of non-industrialized fresh foods.
Access to land is a necessary condition for solving this grievance of almost half of humanity, although it is not a sufficient condition; it must be complemented with other economic, political, and environmental measures. Diverse experts and Pope Francis highlight the basic nucleus of land, roof, and work.
Solutions exist though their viability is based on achieving a strong social and political support. Without that support, it is impossible to implement the necessary measures and policies.
Land for newly planned popular settlements and family agriculture
Millions of people live in overcrowded precarious settlements, in camps for receiving refugees and migrants, many of them are outdoors exposed to the elements with no roof or work. In turn, family agriculture faces all types of restrictions to survive and expand such as fertile soil, financial resources, stockpile facilities, commercialization and logistics.
For the population that needs to settle in intermediate cities and metropolitan areas there are available plots that can be used to establish planned popular settlements. Those are lands localized inside the urban grid or suburban areas with good environmental and proximity conditions. If they are public plots, their allocation is simplified and, if they were private, they would have to be acquired to form a land fund for present use but also with future expansions in perspective. There is no sense in letting the valorization of the land be appropriated by passive renters thus making them more expensive and further away the localization of new settlements.
In these lands, programs of planned popular settlements can developed by assigning plots with utilities in sales or commodates with reasonable prices and payment terms. In addition, there will be construction programs for basic living nucleuses that could be expanded depending on the development of each family and the realization of good living. There will also be spaces for establishing associative productive ventures in activities such as caring for the elderly and children, construction and maintenance of works, clinical labs, software teams, distribution and home-delivery of products, laundry shops, various repair shops among them those geared towards serving the population of the own settlements and neighboring areas.
We are not talking about pilot or demonstrative projects that had already been done and there is vast experience regarding how to address current massive programs, solutions national in scope. In some countries, there are already good programs that only require strengthening and expansion; in other countries, these actions are still incipient or inexistent. There is plenty of valuable knowledge to share among Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
Regarding family agriculture that survives around intermediate cities and some metropolitan areas, it is strategically important to offer them comprehensive support whose main component is the property or usufruct of plots where they can settle. Additionally, it is necessary to promote associative efforts at the level of stockpiling, commercialization, and logistics for their products, including the establishment of district fairs and community supermarkets.
Though valuable efforts have supported family agriculture, there have also been painful setbacks with trade harassment and displacements out of the lands they worked. Much still remains to be remediated to expand and strengthen this small-scale agriculture production. It is of strategic importance to delimit spaces reserved for family agriculture around most of the cities.
Urbanization of existent precarious settlements
A very important challenge is the expansion of precarious settlements that are multiplied by non-regulated invasions of desperate families that have run out of options. Some settlements are in floodable areas or along hillsides prone to landslides with the consequent loss of lives and fragile walls and ceilings. Other settlements consolidated in areas that could be urbanized despite initial invasion might have established plot layouts very hard, though not impossible, to correct. All precarious settlements suffer overcrowdings of families, limited provision of basic services, and uncertainty regarding legal ownership of the land where families are established. However, if public support is available, mediating consensus among inhabitants, then they can correctly urbanize. A decent place to live is a human right that should be assured to the entire population.
Urbanization process of existing precarious settlements can be addressed from the State without consultation or, much better, by establishing in each settlement a unit for planning and monitoring works and normative, formed by experts, local residents, and municipality so as to combine technical recommendations with perspectives and needs of the population. By incorporating the people at the decision level, the viability and sustainability of the proposed urban structure and dynamic is reinforced.
In this context, a critical aspect is the regulation of ownership of the plots where the families live. With that, their occupation is legally accredited, housing increases in value, and it helps prevent the collection of illegal payments by persons that, without any tittle, arrogate for themselves a property that is not theirs.
Work and income of people from popular settlements
These aspects transcend the urbanistic, except on regarding the prevision of spaces for establishing productive activities that do not affect the good living of the popular settlement. It is a way of having working places closer and thus avoiding long commuting. Nevertheless, not all people would find jobs in nearby places, therefore, access routes of transportation system should be a constitutive part of planning action.
Regarding aspects of generation of dignified jobs and income for people from popular settlements, we refer the reader to already published texts in Opinion Sur, such as Popular economy, strategic space for a more equitable order, More than handouts, excellence support for popular economy, and Trusts specialized in popular economy.
It is worth noting that the popular economy universe is very heterogeneous where large part are family units that operate in conditions of extreme scarcity. Thus, we are proposing the establishment of a comprehensive support system to attend those units as well as other ventures of medium size and associative base capable of entering into promising value chains. Therefore, they might subcontract family ventures and retain a diversity of multiplying effects within popular economy. For that, we propose to endow popular economy organizations with two powerful instruments lacking today, developers and trusts specialized in popular economy. These instruments would be added to others to allow popular economy to exit from residual spaces in which it has been cornered up.
Subjacent processes that generate inequalities, poverty, and indigence
It is impossible to ignore the course and way of functioning that prevails almost everywhere around the world that generates social disarticulation, work loss, infamous salaries, and accelerating rural migrations to the cities. Such concentrating dynamic that destroys the environment does not cease to expel population towards precarious settlements that lack basic services and are more and more overcrowded. If this process is not dismantled, land invasions will continue to grow by people desperate to survive. Some of the mechanisms that generate concentration and decisional power are described in the article Dismantling concentration engines. Their impacts, far from being unforeseen externalities or producing “collateral” victims, are the expected and unavoidable results of the perverse and greedy trajectory imposed to humanity.
If concentrating process is not eradicated, we will always run after the facts only ameliorating effects, as solutions will never suffice to solve the reproduction of more unplanned precarious settlements and the displacement of family agriculture that is essential for achieving food sovereignty.
All or nothing?
Faced with this situation, some propose going for all the transformations simultaneously, something that is desirable but not always viable. The alternative is to advance in the spaces and with the intensity that political and social circumstances allow. For various reasons: (1) social emergency that large majorities suffer does not allow delays. (2) Because political viability of actions is based not only on the determination of those who foster transformations but also in the correlation of forces that prevails in each situation. (3) Closely related, establishing new planned popular settlements, reinforcing and extending family agriculture, urbanizing existent precarious settlements and deploying a support system of excellence for popular economy, if well done, can reconfigure the social foundation of local and national development. That is, produce significant changes in the correlation of forces, which, in turn, would allow advancing in more fronts and at higher speed.
In any case, it is clear that it is very difficult to determine what type of strategy is the most effective and viable for each situation; singularity prevails. What is possible and necessary is securing the population that emerges towards good living can grow in clarification and strengthening of their own organization; there is no other way to protect the rights and obligations they conquer. Democracies captured by powerful minorities need such popular clarification and organization to form coalitions capable of transforming the order that subdues majorities by colonizing their minds and formatting their subjectivities.
If you like this text, by filling out the form that appears in this page you can subscribe to receive once a month a brief summary of Opinion Sur English Edition.