The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) latest report on Colombia, released last week, reaffirmed what experts have claimed for a very long time: that the core of Colombia’s problems lies in its rural economy. Nothing reflects the nature of the problem and its gravity better than the high levels of land concentration. Colombia's GINI coefficient for land (a measure of land concentration that ranges between 0 and 1, where 0 represents total equality) is 0.85, one of the highest in the world.
Land is predominantly controlled by an oligopoly of the narco-bourgeoisie, cattle ranchers, speculators, and more recently multinational mining corporations. Together, these groups have contributed to a precipitous decline in the land used for food production. Currently, from a total of 21.5 million hectares suitable for food production only 4.9 million hectares are cultivated; that is only 22.7% of the total.
This situation renders Colombia more dependent on imports (including basic staples such as rice, cereals, and corn) to guarantee food security. If the state fails to intervene on behalf of small-scale producers and subsistence peasants this trend will continue.
In the wake of Colombia’s Free Trade Agreement with Canada, and with the congressional vote on the U.S.-Colombia FTA just around the corner, the future of Colombia’s rural economy looks bleak. This is augmented by the fact that Colombia’s political leadership is still committed to an economic model that views the agrarian economy as an impediment to development rather than as its catalyst. This vision has, for several decades, fomented a lopsided strategy that favors agribusinesses (e.g., flowers, African palm oil, sugar, and bananas), cattle ranching, and concessions to multinational mining corporations rather than small-scale producers.
Under this model state support for small producers and peasants is non-existent, and there is no strategy to tackle the high concentration of land into very few hands.
All figures cited are drawn from the UNDP report. For more on Colombia, visit Nazih Richani's blog, Colombia Cuadernos. Or see specifically, "The Obstacles to Peace in Colombia," August 15, 2011; or NACLA Report July/August 2009, "Coercion Incorporated: Paramilitary Colombia."