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The concentration of land ownership in Colombia

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

11 July 2017

A recent Oxfam report, once again, exposes the huge concentration of land in Colombia.  The report, using data from the Agricultural Census, the DANE (Colombia’s National Statistics Department) and the IGAC (Ordinance Survey) shows the scale of the land problem in Colombia.  The report acknowledges that statistics relating to land and agricultural production in Colombia are problematic, as the Census is the first one to be carried out in 45 years; however, it makes a detailed analysis of the current state of affairs.

The first thing that jumps out is the large amount of land that is in very few hands.  According to the study, 1% of the UPA (Agricultural Production Units) amass 73,78% of the productive land of the country.(1)  This figure does not include indigenous lands.  If we look at the UPAs over 2,000 hectares in size, we find that they “represent 0.1 percent of the total (2,362 holdings); on average they are 17,195 hectares in size and occupy almost 60 percent of the total area included in the census (40.6 million hectares, or 58.72 percent).”(2)

The same report recognises that a person may have more than one UPA, but also it has to be said that a UPA may have more than one investor.  So the figure for owners is an approximate one, but it is clear that we are talking about no more than a few thousand, i.e. in order to carry out a real agrarian reform and not the market lead reform agreed to in the Peace Accord, we would have to impact the lives of no more than two or three thousand people to benefit the hundreds of thousands of peasants who have less than 5 hectares.  It shows how low the FARC stooped that nothing is going to happen to these lands.  The Peace Accord talks about a Land Fund with three million hectares and a further seven million to be formalised, which is nothing other than giving title deeds to peasants who already have land or perhaps giving back to the displaced the land stolen by the landlords.

The 40.6 million hectares divided up in large farms (on average 17,195 hectares) will not be touched, because there are around 2,362 people who have power and cannot be touched.  According to Oxfam, in 42.7% of these large UPA there is uncertainty as to the type of ownership.

Furthermore, when the FARC took up arms against the Colombian oligarchy, farms over 500 hectares accounted for just five million hectares.  This shows that the FARC’s strategy throughout the guerrilla struggle was not able to stop the amassing of land and it also shows that the oligarchy intensified the causes of conflict (land distribution) instead of improving them.  In 1960, just 29% of the UPA exceeded 500 hectares in size, compared to 66% in 2014.  There is no doubt as to how so much land was taken over: theft, bribes, threats, and murders. Now, there are those who want us to believe that these same people are willing to sell or donate their land to the Land Fund as part of their contribution to peace!  It makes absolutely no sense.

Colombia has the worst and most unequal distribution of land in Latin America, a prize not easily won.  Land is in the hands of a few oligarchs, the reform proposed by the Peace Accord will not touch the structure of power in the countryside, as it puts forward a reform with just three million further hectares for the peasants.  During the conflict the oligarchy took over 40 million extra hectares and they are only going to touch just three million of them.  When the FARC took up arms, the oligarchy held just five million hectares in farms that were larger than 500 hectares.  According to the FARC those lands were part of the structural causes of the conflict and now they propose to just touch a small part of the UPAs in its hands and there are those who say that the Peace Accord brings to an end the structural causes of the conflict.  They are missing at least 42 million hectares in order to be able to say that about the land conflict.


(1) All figures are taken from Oxfam (2017) A Snapshot Of Inequality What The Latest Agricultural Census Reveals About Land Distribution In Colombia, Oxfam available at
(2) Ibíd., P. 15

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