Farms for the Future: 20 Organizations Protecting Farmland
By Danielle Nierenberg and Maya Osman-Krinsky
In the United States, over 2,000 acres of agricultural land are sold every day for housing or commercial development, according to the American Farmland Trust. This has especially affected Black farmers who, since 1920, have seen nearly a 90 percent decline in land ownership, according to the U.S. Census.
Over the past decade, as many as 200 million hectares of land have undergone large-scale transactions internationally, according to a study by Oregon State University. These transactions, taking the form of land grabs or corporate consolidation of agriculture, often deteriorate the economic livelihood and food security of small farmers and communities reliant on these lands for sustenance, as reported by the Oakland Institute. When communities control their own farmland, residents can invest in sustainable and affordable agriculture, which helps to alleviate hunger and malnutrition, according to the World Bank.
Many organizations around the world are fighting to help communities regain control of their land and livelihoods. Food Tank is highlighting 19 organizations combating land grabs and protecting land for farmers.
1. Alaska Farmland Trust (United States)
One in five Alaskans is considered food insecure, and over 95 percent of the food consumed by Alaskans is imported from the contiguous U.S., according to the Alaska Farmland Trust Corporation (AFTC). AFTC was created in 2005 to support the existing farms in Alaska's Mat-Su valley and safeguard farmland against development. AFTC aims to protect 5,700 acres of farmland in the next 50 years to ensure productive farms, ranches, and forests for generations of Alaskan farmers to come.
2. American Farmland Trust (United States)
Since its inception in 1980, the American Farmland Trust (AFT) has worked to protect farmland from development and promote sound farming practices. AFT leads the conservation agriculture movement by combining on-the-ground projects with research and advocacy. AFT also created the No Farms No Food message, which aims to connect the food we eat to the farms that grow it. The organization has protected millions of acres of farmland from commercial development while helping tens of thousands of farmers adopt better farming practices.
3. Anera (Middle East)
Since 1968, Anera has worked to provide emergency relief and sustainable long-term aid to refugee communities in Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan. In 1985, they began a decade-long agricultural development project to help Palestinian farmers reclaim hundreds of acres of land. This project continues to grow in the West Bank, giving loans to thousands of farmers and encouraging sustainable projects to combat food insecurity and water scarcity.
4. Bangladesh Krishok Federation (Bangladesh)
The Bangladesh Krishok Federation (BKF) was established in 1990 as a grassroots peasants' rights organization. Since before its founding, BKF has organized landless people to fight for policy reform by demonstrating, organizing, providing legal aid, and working with the government to negotiate fair land deals. BKF and its women-led counterpart, Bangladesh Kishani Sabha (BKS), work in tandem to secure rights for peasants, farmers, and the 112 million landless people in Bangladesh.
5. Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (Cambodia)
The Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC) addresses land rights issues for Cambodian farmers through community organizing and policy negotiation. CCFC's No Land No Life Campaign tackles forced evictions and unjust legislation by mobilizing small farmers to speak out against Cambodian authorities on land tenure and human rights issues. CCFC has been a platform for over 6,800 farming families condemning forced evictions and exploitative commercial farming.
6. Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (United States)
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund is a non-profit cooperative association of black farmers and landowners. The Federation builds support for public policies and credit unions that help Black and family farmers expand and protect their landholdings in the South. They also hold annual events and workshops centered around education, forestry, and racial equity in food systems.
7. Food First Information and Action Network International (International)
Food First Information and Action Network International (FIAN) was the first international human rights organization with a specific focus on adequate food and nutrition. FIAN fights for land and natural resources by holding corporations and governments accountable for violations of people's right to food. FIAN aims to secure people's access to land rights while advocating for gender, economic, agricultural, and legal equality worldwide. In 2019, FIAN's right-to-food activism reached 60 countries.
8. Friends of the Earth International (International)
Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) is a grassroots network mobilizing for climate justice, human rights, food sovereignty, and gender justice. Across its 73 member groups, FoEI supports campaigns defending peasant farming against large-scale industrial land grabs. Most recently, Justiça Ambiental, a FoEI member group, worked with a Mozambican village fighting to reclaim their stolen land.
9. GRAIN (International)
GRAIN is an international non-profit organization that advocates for community-controlled and biodiverse food systems. Using research and public awareness outreach campaigns, GRAIN supports small farmers in their efforts to combat corporate land deals and land grabs. In 2019, GRAIN supported struggles for land in Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, Cameroon, Cambodia, and Brazil.
10. Grupo Semillas (Colombia)
Corporación Grupo Semillas is an environmentalist NGO that backs Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and peasant organizations in Colombia. Grupo Semillas supports land tenure and reclamation efforts in their Tierras y territorios division, which focuses on pushing back against agribusiness and land monopolies. Through partnering with other regional organizations, Grupo Semillas conducts and disseminates research about land rights, food sovereignty, and biodiversity to Colombia's marginalized populations.
11. Hawai’ian Islands Land Trust (Hawai’i)
The Hawai'ian Islands Land Trust (HILT) takes a holistic approach to land conservation through conservation easements. HILT comprises four Hawai'ian land trusts, all of which aim to conserve Hawai'ian farms, ranches, watersheds, forests, and historical landscapes. HILT has protected over 18,000 acres of Hawai'ian land through land acquisition and protection initiatives and policy advocacy.
12. Institute for Poverty Land, and Agrarian Studies (South Africa)
The Institute for Poverty, Land, and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) is an organization dedicated to researching land grabbing in Africa. PLAAS uses its research and policy engagement to highlight how food systems can both perpetuate and alleviate poverty. Since its founding in 1995, PLAAS has published reports calling for a restructuring of agro-food systems to aid marginalized communities harmed by parasitic land deals.
13. La Via Campesina (International)
La Via Campesina (LVC) is an international peasant's rights movement fighting for food sovereignty, climate justice, and territory rights. LVC leads a global campaign for agrarian reform by defending food sovereignty and asserting peasant farmers' rights to seeds. LVC has covered land access efforts in Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Andalusia, and Ethiopia, carrying out nearly 50 activities across different continents in 2019 alone.
14. Namati (International)
Namati is a legal empowerment organization that seeks to tackle problems of land, environmental, health, and citizenship justice. The organization employs paralegals who work directly with communities; with nearly 20,000 community partners, Namati reaches over 350,000 people directly. Namati's initiatives in Kenya, Myanmar, and Sierra Leone support smallholder farmers struggling to navigate administrative processes and land grab disputes.
15. National Black Farmers Association (United States)
The National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) was founded in 1995 to represent Black farmers in the U.S. They focus efforts on civil rights, land retention, access to loans, education and agricultural training, and economic development. NBFA's work has impacted tens of thousands of farmers since its inception, fighting for food sovereignty, land rights, and an end to hunger.
16. National Black Food & Justice Alliance (United States)
The National Black Food & Justice Alliance (NBFJA) is a coalition of Black-led organizations that is working toward Black land and food sovereignty and self-determining food economies. Building off a long legacy of Black food security efforts in the U.S., NBFJA is combating anti-Blackness and inequities in the food system by building visibility of Black-led efforts, creating an organized framework around food and land issues impacting Black people, engaging in direct action, and building togetherness space.
17. Partners for the Land and Agricultural Needs of Traditional Peoples (Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa)
Partners for the Land and Agricultural Needs of Traditional Peoples (PLANT) is a platform that confronts the marginalization of Indigenous peoples in Brazilian Amazonia and Sub-Saharan Africa. PLANT works with their local partners on hands-on projects, public policy, and research and analysis. PLANT supports food sovereignty, condemns land grabs, and seeks to center indigenous voices in global decision-making about ecological justice.
18. Peconic Land Trust (United States)
The Peconic Land Trust (PLT) partners with landowners, communities, and organizations in Suffolk County to conserve Long Island's working farms. PLT is working on several local projects on Long Island, including land conservation legislation and community conservation campaigns. Since 1983, they have protected over 13,000 acres of land and secured millions of dollars for land protection.
19. South of the Sound Community Farm Land Trust (United States)
South of the Sound Community Farm Land Trust (SSCFLT) is a Washington-based nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving affordable farmland. SSCFLT brings together local farmers, agriculture preservation advocates, affordable housing advocates, and active citizens to form a community land trust. SSCFLT works to reduce landowning costs for farmers and demonstrate sustainable farming practices in community farm environments.
20. Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (United States)
Iowa is losing 25 acres of farmland each day to development and imports more than 90 percent of their food from out of state, but the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) is fighting to change this. They believe that through the state's farming landscape, economy, and food supply, they can build more resilient communities in Iowa. SILT is working to create affordable land access for Iowa's farmers and protect land for sustainable food farming to rebuild the the state's rural economy and mitigate climate change.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>