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close this bookPeasants' Pursuit of Outside Alliances in the Process of Land Reform: A Discussion of Legal Assistance Programmes in Bangladesh and the Philippines (UNRISD, 1999, 40 p.)
close this folderI. INTRODUCTION*
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View the documentPeasants' Need for External Support
View the documentPeasants' Legal Needs
View the documentAre Lawyers Reliable Allies?
View the documentLawyers' Ability to Assist Peasants

Peasants' Need for External Support

Experience has shown that poor, weak rural social groups, such as small farmers, tenants and agricultural workers, require external support if their attempts to access productive land, secure formal titles and improve productivity through subsidized credits, use of appropriate technologies, markets and other facilities are to have any hopes of success. Examples of such alliances and actions by rural groups and stronger outsiders are not lacking, but many are spontaneous and rather short-lived.

On the whole, as Scott writes:

In the Third World it is rare for peasants to risk an outright confrontation with the authorities over taxes, cropping patterns, development policies, or onerous new laws; instead they are likely to nibble away at such policies by non-compliance, foot dragging, deception. In place of a land invasion, they prefer piecemeal squatting; in place of open mutiny, they prefer desertion; in place of attacks on public or private grain stores, they prefer pilfering. When such stratagems are abandoned in favor of more quixotic action, it is usually a sign of great desperation (1985:xvi).

Well co-ordinated, assertive and long-term direct action is thus seldom likely by those who are entirely occupied with the daily struggle for survival. In fact, peasants and other poorer rural groups may intentionally wish to avoid open confrontation with authorities and domineering landowners for fear of further repression. On the other hand, trustworthy external allies and assistance combined with growing consciousness and organization have strengthened peasant mobilization and action (cf. Huizer, 1980:1-5).

Reliable external allies and support are crucial if the livelihood interests of marginalized rural populations are to receive the attention of authorities and powerful landowners. Progressive administrators, technicians and politicians can help peasants mobilize around land issues. Genuine international solidarity and financial and technical assistance programmes are important as well. National and local farmers' associations, co-operatives and some development NGOs, academic centres, political parties, trade unions, and religious and professional organizations that interact with peasants and other rural groups on a sustained basis can assist peasants and the land-aspiring rural poor in the following five crucial areas.

First, these types of organizations can play an important role in mobilizing peasants and the rural poor. In many cases, marginalized groups may not be aware of land reform issues, including their rights, what they might gain from land reform and the actions that would be necessary to achieve their goals. Outsiders may assist by organizing self-help groups, literacy campaigns, leadership and training programmes, internal political mobilization, co-ordination of actions, networking and dissemination of useful information. They may also be able to influence the way land reform issues are portrayed in the mass media, lobby political parties, local governments and the bureaucracy, and organize the rural poor for direct electoral participation aimed at wider land reform and tenurial security. They may assist with organization of direct action campaigns, such as squatting on private or public land, removal of crops by tenants/sharecroppers from landowners' fields, pressuring officials and landowners for lower land rents or crop sharing, etc. Finally, these organizations may encourage debate and imaginative project planning concerning wider resource use options, comprehensive redistribution/restitution of cultivated land, flexible access to and use of common property resources, and security of tenure for indigenous peoples, women, pastoralists and fisherfolk.

Second, organizations and individuals concerned with social causes may work to acquire tenurial security and improved working conditions for marginalized rural groups. They can help identify available land and acquire formal title. They may be able to mobilize peasants and other sympathetic groups to oppose evictions of tenants and landless labourers by landowners. In some cases, they may mediate between landlords and tenants in disputes (e.g. written/customarily binding and longer lease contracts, lower rents or crop sharing, more equitable sharing of input costs). They may also make arrangements with authorities to take official steps to improve access to common property resources, and lease or rent terms.

Third, rural societies undergoing profound transformation are marked by a great deal of tension. Sympathetic outsiders may mediate internal conflicts of interest within the peasantry, as well as between peasants and other rural social groups and outside forces. Settlement of contentions between different rural groups - such as squatters and earlier tenants, small farmers and pastoralists, residents and migrants, small farmers and agricultural labourers, households selected and rejected for land redistribution - is complex but crucial. So is the prevention of conflicts across tenurial classes. Grassroots organizations and influential progressive individuals could help to resolve conflicts involving access to common property resources and expropriation of indigenous peoples' customary land rights. They could also provide assistance to peasants and other weaker rural social groups by assisting them in the development of skills for long-term crisis management.

The fourth key area where outsiders can be of assistance is in the identification of cases where the human rights of peasants have been violated. Such violations may include arbitrary evictions, injuries, or destruction of their crops, animals and houses. In addition to monitoring cases where peasants' basic human rights have been infringed upon, human rights activists, lawyers and legal aid services can defend individuals or groups in legal circles, or refer cases to a competent authority or independent human rights organization.

Fifth, providing marginalized rural groups with extension services - credits and loan guarantees, appropriate inputs and other services, as well as markets for outputs - in conjunction with land reform is as crucial as providing them with land in the first place. Outside forces can play an important role in organizing land reform beneficiaries into co-operatives, user groups, informal production bodies, etc. Their assistance is also likely to be vital in establishing land committees or other organizations for land improvement, erosion control, watershed protection schemes and sustainable agricultural practices. Monitoring of the living and working conditions of the beneficiaries is equally important, especially to verify that they hold onto their land, their production potential is fully exploited, and they do not become indebted.