While leaders of the World Bank, the powerful financial institution that governs key aspects of the global economy and international development, converged in Washington D.C. on Friday for their annual meeting, a coalition of grassroots and community organizations from around the world are using the day to speak out against the bank's destructive policies which they say "are facilitating a rampant theft of land and resources from some of the world’s poorest people."
Coming together under a new campaign called "Our Land Our Business" and using the social media hashtag #WorldVsBank to help spread their message, individuals and a coalition of more than one hundred NGOs, farmers' groups, and indigenous organizations have organized "creative mobilizations" in 10 cities around the world demanding the World Bank abandon its disastrous policies that continue to harm the very people they claim to be helping: small farmers, the rural and urban poor, and indigenous peoples.
"If the World Bank keeps promoting economic activity that destroys biodiversity and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, pastoralists, and indigenous communities, they should not have a mandate to exist." —Alnoor Ladha, /TheRulesIn the cities of Nairobi, Lagos, Mexico city, Delhi, Kinshasa, Johannesburg, Dhaka, Brussels, London, and Washington, DC— supporters of the day of action say they are coming together "to stand against [the bank's] insane, suicidal prescription for development that puts the growth of corporate power above all else; that ignores the truth of how the world is fed by ordinary people on small farms, not corporations; and that denies the science of how our fields, our rivers, and even our bodies are being poisoned by industrial farming whose only true beneficiaries are the 1%."
Though the World Bank's stated purpose is to leverage its large financial resources to invest in development projects designed to alleviate poverty, the coalition's members say the bank's policies are having the opposite impact. According to Alnoor Ladha, co-founder of /TheRules, which has helped organize the day of action, "If the World Bank keeps promoting economic activity that destroys biodiversity and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, pastoralists, and indigenous communities, they should not have a mandate to exist."
Released to coincide with the #WorldVsBank campaign, the U.S.-based Oakland Institute, a think tank that focuses on the intersection between social, economic, and environmental issues, released a new report (pdf) aimed at dismantling well-worn "myths" about the role the bank plays in terms of agriculture and development. According to the report:
The Bank’s financial power and political leverage has made it difficult for cash-poor countries to oppose the institution, while its ability to manage public image through perpetuation of myths around its mission and activities has enabled the Bank to withstand its critics. [...]
The World Bank’s agriculture-related projects, which it claims aim to defend the interests of smallholders, in fact negate the potential of small-scale agriculture and agroecological practices to bring sustainable and inclusive development to countries. [...]
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[Overall... these] neoliberal policies are still imposed on governments of the developing world that perpetuate inequality and a race to the bottom through exploitation and marginalization of the poorest countries, their land and people. It is time to tackle the myths that World Bank perpetuates under the guise of development strategy, to question the “growth at all cost” agenda, and to ensure governments and populations control their economic destinies.
Specifically, Friday's international protest is calling for the end of two initiatives run by the World Bank—the so-called "Doing Business rankings" and a more recent project called the "Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture project." Taken together, explained Ladha, these programs are the key tools of the Bank's "pro-corporate, anti-poor, environmentally unsustainable model of development."
In practice, according to the Oakland Institute, these kinds of programs push developing countries to liberalized their economies so "that large-scale land investment and western corporations can move in unimpeded." As a result, the smallholder famers and other vulnerable populations are forced out, made invisible or actively dispossessed of their ability to grow crops, graze animals, or otherwise make a living as land becomes unattainable.
“If you look behind many of the recent land grabs," said Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute, "you will find World Bank policies that enable investors to come in with projects that promise benefits to communities but don’t follow through. We can keep going after each corporation and investment group but it would be more effective if the World Bank stopped using their immense political and financial power to pave the way for what has become the systematic exploitation of land and people.”
And as Ladha and his colleague at /TheRules, Martin Kirk, explained in an op-ed published earlier this week, the "Our Land Our Business" coalition that has now formed to fight back against such policies reveals that new models of resistance are being created to combat criticism of development and corporate-style globalization that extend back decades:
[The #WorldVsBank campaign] is eclectic and comprises farmers groups and peasant movements in developing countries, and think tanks and activist groups globally. They are demanding an end to the Doing Business rankings and the new BBA project. These demands are consistent with the demands of those who have long questioned the Bank's basic legitimacy. What started out as a critique of one policy initiative and its impact, particularly on agricultural practices, is blossoming into a far larger movement that has recognized how the Doing Business rankings are an articulation of the Bank's whole approach to development: i.e. undemocratic, extractive, pro-corporate, anti-poor and deeply technocratic.
Follow lives updates of #WorldVsBank actions via Twitter: