Land Reform: Is it the answer? A Venezuelan peasant speaks

Frances Moore Lappé and Hannes Lorenzen | 02.01.1981

An interview with Carlos Rojas by Frances Moore Lappé and Hannes Lorenzen, 1981, Research Report No. 2


As the 1980s begin, we increasingly hear calls for land reform as a solution to world hunger. The United States Agency for International Development (AID), the World Bank, and Carter’s Presidential Commission on World Hunger all pay homage to need for land reform in the third world.

And who could be against it?

To most of us land reform means the redistribution of control over land and carries with it greater equity and greater access to food and income by the disenfranchised majority.

We offer this booklet to challenge the simple notion that land redistribution is, by itself, the solution. We focus on the history of land reform in Venezuela. Through Howard Handelman’s thumbnail history, we learn the function of land reform nationally; and through one peasant’s story, we learn how land reform affected the lives of people in a single village.

Their observations reveal a powerful truth about social reform: without a genuine redistribution of power, any “reform” can actually strengthen the oppressive forces and can result in new mechanisms of control of the many by the few.

For all who assert that land reform is a tool for combatting injustice and needless hunger, we recommend learning more about the history of land reform in such diverse countries as China, the U.S.S.R., Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Cuba, Bolivia, Mexico, and those in Eastern Europe. We suggest some resources at the end of this book for that purpose. (Please suggest others to us.)

We at the Institute are engaged in continuing study of land and other reforms. We are testing this hypothesis: Only when the transformation of the agrarian structure takes place under the overwhelming pressure of organized peasants will the changes favor them. Bureaucratic devices which simply parcel land will not help the peasants establish their own power. The state and/or corrupt “peasant” unions will merely replace the paternalism and exploitation of the larger landholders.

Since the development of any society is based on the development of the individuals within it, programs of redistribution must break patterns of dependency. The programs must provide a process for people themselves to take more and more control over their own lives. The process of land reform is, therefore, as important as the reform itself.

Institute for Food and Development Policy, February 1981