Peru has developed an agricultural reform that will serve as a support package for small farmers and to modernize agriculture in the country. But the reform has received both positive and negative reactions. Pictured: Potato harvest in Viraco. Photo: Leo Berggren-Lagercrantz.


Agricultural reform in Peru raises both hope and criticism

One in four Peruvians live on agriculture and many small producers in rural Peru struggle daily to survive. Now the government is starting the implementation of the new agricultural reform in the country - an initiative that has aroused both enthusiasm and criticism.

Peru is a country characterized by strong political instability. But when members of the government are regularly forced to resign due to various scandals, some political ideas seem to survive the turbulent crisis the country is going through. One of these is to reform agriculture, a question affecting a large proportion of the population and which is strongly linked to political, social and environmental issues. At the end of last year, the government launched the so-called the second agricultural reform that now to be implemented. The reform has raised hopes for change in the country, but it has also been criticized by several public debaters.

The first agricultural reform - a look back

The most recent major agricultural reform in the country took place in 1969. It brought about major changes for small-scale agriculture in Peru, and even today it is considered one of the most radical reforms in Latin America. The reform was carried out by General Juan Velasco Alvarado, who was the leader of the military junta and had seized power in a military coup in the country a year earlier. Large land estates were allotted to small farmers through expropriation and cooperatives were formed. Even today, the reform is considered very controversial, which was noticed when one documentary about the agricultural reform, which premiered in 2019, led to a heated debate about how the country as a nation should relate to its dark and diverse past.

Until the reform, Peru's agriculture had largely been based on a so-called hacienda system, a remnant of the colonial era with large concentrations of land among a few landowners. With the reform, many farmers became independent producers, but it came quickly criticized by opponents of the authoritarian regime and the reform created large gaps between the poorest in the countryside and the members of the cooperatives.

More than half a century after the first reform

Today, more than fifty years after the first agricultural reform, large social gaps remain in the country - between rural and urban areas, between the coast and the highlands. Half of all Peruvians who depend on agriculture live in extremely difficult conditions and 30 percent of the land is owned by a few coastal companies.

A workshop in cultivation and irrigation in the district of Pampacolca organized by PDR and Swallows Latin America. Photo: Leo Berggren-Lagercrantz.

The new reform was promoted as a kind of support package for small farmers and a modernization of agriculture in the country. But many critical voices expressed their dissatisfaction and skepticism even before the proposal for a new reform was hammered out. One of these was the anthropologist María Luisa Burneo who wrote in one debate article that the issue of unequal access to land and climate-adapted agriculture was not adequately addressed in the proposal. But despite her attitude towards the proposal, she still shows a weak enthusiasm for the idea of ​​the possibility of changing agriculture.

- A broader perspective must be adopted. A new reform should be seen as an opportunity for innovation and at the same time a chance to make use of traditional knowledge, she writes in the article. 

A local perspective

Organisations The Swallows Latin America's rural development program Programa de Desarrollo Rural (PDR) in the Andean province of Castile in southern Peru, has been founded in collaboration between several local grassroots organizations. The program is based on two cornerstones - sustainability and equality. The work is based on the goals in Agenda 2030, where the aim is to combine work on human rights with the fight against global warming.

Workshop in vegetable growing organized by PDR and Swallows Latin America in the district Viraco. Photo: Leo Berggren-Lagercrantz.

Some of the criticisms leveled at the agricultural reform have highlighted the lack of such a holistic perspective. Many believe that it partially ignores fundamental problems that a large part of the rural population is confronted with on a daily basis - including climate adaptation and food sovereignty. The goal of the work within the PDR program is to help the local population with concrete and direct solutions while at the same time adopting a long-term perspective with sustainability as the watchword. Small farmers in rural Peru, and especially women, live in many cases in great vulnerability - not only financially, but also in social exclusion due to the large gaps that remain between urban and rural areas.

Reform or populism?

If the first reform is still considered one of the most historically radical political decisions in Latin America - for better or worse - so has the new reform described by several critics like populism. The fact that the reform has been on ice due to the political crisis the country is going through has not improved the situation.

- The budget for this reform is far too small. This is unfortunate because many people in rural areas need help. They need access to markets where they can sell their products, says sociologist Alipio Montes Urday, who works at Swallows Latin America's partner organization CEDER.

That the reform has been called for it second reform arouses strong emotions and debate due to its value charge and symbolic significance. But beyond the historical references behind the name, Alipio Monte's Urday is critical of whether the reform should even be called a reform.

- Behind the big words is a lack of concrete documents and funding, he concludes.

Swallows Latin America
Swallows Latin America is a non-partisan and non-religious organization working for human rights in Latin America. In Peru, they work with grassroots actors (including the organization CEDER) to increase the democratic influence and participation of women and young people in the Andean province of Castilla. In Castile, the majority of the population lives on agriculture - an activity that is becoming increasingly difficult due to the consequences of climate change. Through the PDR rural development program, Swallows Latin America works to promote equal and sustainable agriculture in the province.

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