The New Land Grab Versus Juan the Farmer


When man tries to circumvent the laws of nature that sustain him he inevitably destroys the natural environment that has sustained him.

From Topsoil and Civilization, Tom Dale and Vernon Carter

Amatitlan, Guatemala 2016

Since arriving here two and a half months ago we’ve been doing a great deal of observing. Things are changing, there is a great thunder on the horizon; the world is teetering.

Those changes, those warning signs that many of us see day to day and that others study and have a healthy fear of, are evident here in Guatemala.  In this post, I’d like to talk about the way folks here use land, or perhaps more to the point, aren’t able to use land.

In Guatemala, and in most developing nations around the world, there is a new process of land concentration that rivals the great land acquisitions of the colonial period. Today, though more people live in democracies than ever before, fewer people, especially poor people, have access to land. The big players in this new land grab are transnational monoculture plantation farmers whose business model is to monopolize the food market by monopolizing seed production and patenting “growing techniques.” In short, businesses like Mansanto have increased production by stockpiling land and monopolizing what is grown on it.

The second player in the new land grab is the meatpacking industry and the ranchers they employ to produce their products. Companies like Cargill and Tyson control millions of acres of land they employ in their efforts to sell their meat products worldwide.

Leaving aside the morality of the business model of these companies, what does this land grab mean for places like Guatemala? What is happening here, where FTF currently works?

In a word, confusion. Local farmers are in a state of flux. Their markets are changing and unless they have access to fertile land of their own, they are often unable to feed themselves during the driest months before the rains. Many leave their homes during these tough months in search of work in the oversized cities. Many turn to the drug trade or simply break laws and farm as squatters. Look at the graphic below from an excellent paper on Guatemala (Land Deal Politics Initiative, or LDPI). What is growing? Land controlled by corporate farms and meat packing companies.


In recent weeks we have been meeting with some very bright and very connected Guatemalan entrepreneurs in and around Amatitlan. They see avenues and alleyways that lead out and away from the car crash the new land-grab is creating. One such entrepreneur, a woman named Lila, believes Aquaponics is one pathway to revitalizing local economies. Aquaponics uses the nutrient rich water supplied by micro fisheries to grow beautiful and healthy plants without the need for soil. FTF is currently spending our immersionship on an aquaponics farm at the Hogar. Next week we will begin work on Lila’s aquaponics project, learning the trade, meeting her trusted friends in the small pueblos, and investigating unique and entrepreneurial ways to get this appropriate technology off the ground authentically. We will work with Lila. Lila will work with us. In time, our work may be just the kind of thing that fills the food gap created by the new land grab.

For more on aquaponics go here.

For more on First Things Foundation go here.

For more on the best way to engage an emerging market go take a look at what our friend Ernesto Sirolli has to say.