1.1.1-11: Introduction

Module 1, Section 1.1-11



In many developing countries and some formerly communist societies, rural families comprise a substantial majority of the population. For these families, land represents a fundamental asset: it is a primary source of income, security, and status. But almost half of these rural families—some 230 million households—either lack any access to land or a secure stake in the land they till. As a result, acute poverty, and related problems of hunger, social unrest, and environmental degradation persist. - Rural Development Institute



The most pressing cause of the abject poverty which millions of people in the world endure is that a mere 2.5% of landowners with more than 100 hectares control nearly three-quarters of all the land in the world, with the top 0.23% controlling over half. - Susan George, How the Other Half Dies



All are indigenous to a place who are willing to cherish and be cherished by that place and its peoples. A people denied the option of connection with their land are a people dispossessed of both place and self. - Alastair McIntosh in Colonised Land; Colonised Mind



The distinguishing feature of universal poverty is landlessness. - Kevin Cahill, Who Owns the World


1.4 The right to land is not to be found in most human rights documents. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that "the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." But the right to land and natural resources – the equal right to the earth itself – is not stated in the Declaration. The Declaration declares the "right to own property" but this is not the same as the right to the basis of all property – the land and natural resources of the earth.

1.5 Affirming the "right to work" and "the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing" begs the question – what if one cannot find employment? Must the state then provide all these basic needs, even to strong and healthy people who are willing to work for their living?

1.6 Also included in the Declaration is the right "to protection against unemployment." If economic efficiencies and labor saving devices result in fewer employment opportunities, how are people to survive without an income? Again, the Declaration seems to put this right as a responsibility of the State, but without information as to how the State can best secure this right.

1.7 The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that "All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources… In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence." But what about those who currently have no access to natural wealth and resources, nor any means of subsistence?

1.8 The Covenant recognizes "the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts." But if there are more people seeking work than available jobs, how much freedom is there to freely choose work? The Covenant affirms "the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions" but we know that the market economy as presently constructed does not secure these rights for everyone, nor have governments generated sufficient capacity to secure basic economic human rights. Nowhere in this Covenant is to be found the right to the basis of all production – the earth itself.


Consider this... Without access to this planet and its resources you can neither eat, breathe, walk, sleep, work nor play. Land is more than somewhere to live - it is life itself. Without exception, everything around you, EVERY SINGLE THING you use and consume in the process of leading your life are products of the land. These are the simple facts: If you have no land to live from, you are dependent on money to purchase the products of the land; if you have no money to live from, you depend on employment to gain the money; if you have no employment, then dependent on the State; if the State refuses you, you beg for the charity of the rich; no charity, you steal or you die. Such is the chain which binds us to each other, and to the land. - BEarthright


1.10 Whose Planet are we Living On?

To live is to use Land - To own Land is to own Life itself

  • Nearly all of our planet is now owned by some person or organization
  • The majority population (60% to 90%) in EVERY inhabited country are landless - own no part of the planet whatsoever, not even their own homes
  • The richest 5% in every nation, rich and poor, North and South, East and West, now own between 70% and 95% of their own countries

- BEarthright


1.11 The reality is that a small minority of the people of the planet own or control most of the land and resources. Answers to questions such as "Who owns the earth?" and "How much is it worth?" are frequently difficult to find. Here are more numbers:

  • A United Nations study of 83 countries showed that less than 5% of rural landowners control three-quarters of the land."
  • "At best, a generous interpretation would suggest that about 3% of the population owns 95% of the privately held land in the USA." (Peter Meyer, Land Rush - A Survey of America's Land - Who Owns It, Who Controls It, How much is Left, Harpers Magazine, Jan. 1979).
  • 568 companies control 22% of the private land in the US, a land mass the size of Spain. Those same companies land interests worldwide comprise a total area larger than that of Europe - almost 2 billion acres. (ibid)
  • According to a 1985 government report, 2% of landowners hold 60% of the arable land in Brazil while close to 70% of rural households have little or none. Just 342 farm properties in Brazil cover 183,397 square miles - an area larger than California. (Worldwatch, Oct. 1988)
  • A joint project conducted by the Demographic Information Group and Population of South Africa (Popsa) cited that in 2001 blacks owned 20% of the land, whites 44% and coloureds 9%,and that muncipalities owned just over a quarter of South Africas land.
  • 60% of El Salvador is owned by the richest 2% of the population
  • 80% of Pakistan is owned by the richest 3% of the population
  • 74% of Great Britain is owned by the richest 2% of the population
  • In Scotland nearly two-thirds of the privately owned land is held by just 1,000 people. (recent survey by Andy Wightman)
  • The landowners of Europe, who get 60% of the EU agricultural subsidy of €48,000 million, own 60% of Europe and constitute less than 0.2% of its population.