Resistance is fertile: Citizen action on land access

Shared Assets is a think tank building a land system which serves the common good. Consultancy Coordinator Tom Carman argues that alleviating inequities in access to land is essential in building more just and sustainable food systems and unpacks different actions we can take to ensure the fairer distribution of land. 

A few years ago at the ORFC, during the land tax workshop, Molly Scott Cato, former Green Party MEP and current Professor of Economics was reflecting on the ‘Factors of Production’ from economics – the things you need to make or produce something – which are land, labour and capital.  She made an interesting link between the political party policies and the factors of production – that typically, Conservative policies are made to protect capital, Labour policies to support people and that the Green Party tries to protect and enhance land and the natural environment.

It is through this lens that our role as citizens in changing and improving our land and farming system is even more important – together we can bring all three dimensions together.

Localised food production and supply is essential to effective system change approaches to household, regional and national food security. Key to this transition is having effective access to nearby land for food production. Shared Assets is a community interest company which supports the development of land management models which better serve more people by enhancing the environment, engaging local communities in decision-making and fostering sustainable livelihoods. Guided by stewardship principles, we provide advice, support, and training, undertake research and advocate for policy changes relating to land management. Shared Assets empowers communities to help shape their local environment.

What tangible actions can we take to redress the inequities of access to land? There are various great organisations working in this space and diverse ways we can work with and alongside them to reframe land as a common good.

  • Use money that you might use for investment to sensibly invest in responsible land access ventures.  One strong example in the UK is the Ecological Land Co-operative which investment monies from sale of shares to the public to acquire land for people who want to make a living from good food production.  Investments into ELC can pay a 3% annual return and they have raised over £1m of investment from over 500 people through several share issues in the last 5 years.  There are other investment opportunities in good food enterprises, such as Stockwood CBS – a biodynamically managed farm based in the Midlands.
  • Become a committed member of (or create) a nearby Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiative.  CSAs are ventures that enable citizens and food producers to share the risks and rewards of food production  – often the more time you put in as a member, the more produce you receive each week, incentivising active participation.
  • Read up on and share land access narratives.  The Europe-wide Access to Land partnership is a movement of organisations committed to bringing about better land access opportunities for agroecological farmers across the continent.  Some recent publications from the partnership include: 
  • Add your voice to calls for better information on land ownership.  In 2016, Shared Assets was a leading voice in response to an attempt to privatise data held by the Land Registry.  Free, public access to land holdings is normal and common in lots of places overseas. In the UK, the Land Registry is not only an incomplete record, but also requires users to pay for records.  Shared Assets addressed some of these inequalities through the Land Explorer website, and we are excited to see what the longer term impact of the opening up of more Land Registry data will be.
  • Share land you own with others that need or want it.  Mark Twain famously said “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore”.  Well a lot of land has been bought and land is in short supply.  If you own land and can afford to share it or give it away, then do that.  Some more examples to reach out and offer your land to
    • Land matching services that exist to link landowners and land users.
    • FarmStarts which provide a first site for people wanting to make a living from good food production.
    • Soil Association Land Trust – use a succession model to retain or convert farmland under organic land management.
    • Biodynamic Land Trust – have acquired four farms through succession and fundraising to manage them biodynamically.
    • Scottish Farmland Trust – a relatively new trust with no holdings yet, but have an idea of demand and are mobilising themselves to supply land to real farmers in Scotland.
    • Land in Our Name (LION) – a new network of Black farmers who are interested in hearing from landowners who are interested in exploring how they can make reparations for wealth built on slavery and colonialism by making land available to people of colour

More examples of successful land-based citizen action by communities wanting better food security can be found overseas:

  • Land Trusts: Terre de Liens (‘Land of Links’ – France) which has acquired 3000+ hectares of land with €80million of investment from several thousand French citizens.
  • Legal challenge to land grabbing eg: Boerenforum (‘Farmers Forum’ – Netherlands) who have used court action to prevent the installation of unwelcome corporate retailers in urban areas, allowing farmers to use that land instead.

Being a passive recipient of the food system is an option, but there are plenty of ways for citizens, organisations, and authorities to transition to a land system which truly serves many so get stuck in!