The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has a long history of work in the field of land policy and agrarian reform, playing a lead role in international co-operation from its founding up until the 1970s. But a lack of appropriate financial resources saw it gradually eclipsed during the 1980s. From the 1990s on, the initiative in the design and development of land policies and agrarian reform has been taken up by the World Bank, with the FAO generally following its policies.
Could the FAO provide space for an alternative approach to the issue of land and agrarian reform? Sofie Monsalve Suárez examines this possibility. She shows that the FAO, unlike the World Bank, has the potential to deal with agrarian reform in a multi-dimensional rather than a purely economic way. Such a course is by no means assured, since the FAO is a battle ground where conflicting perceptions and interests meet, but some cause for optimism can be found. In particular, the positive example of the International Conference on Agricultural Reform and Rural Development in Brazil in 2006, a victory for civil society after decades of neoliberal hegemony in land and rural development policies, offers new political opportunities.