New bills aim to ease farm debt, build resilience and give farmers of color better access to land, training and credit
The leaders of the Senate and House agriculture committees sent a clear message last week: They pledged to right the racist policies that have deprived colored farmers of their land and agricultural livelihoods, and also to ensure that small and diverse farms have the tools they need. survive, now and in the future.
Three recently introduced pieces of legislation propose investments for producers of colors and sustainable agriculture. The Black Farmer Justice Act, S.300 (Booker, Warren, Gillibrand, Smith, Warnock, Leahy) and the Color Farmer Emergency Relief Act, S.278 (Warnock, Booker, Luján , Stabenow, Leahy, Klobuchar, Brown, Gillibrand), are complete packages that support farmers and ranchers of color. The Agriculture Committee has proposed similar priorities in the House’s $ 1.9 trillion budget reconciliation package under consideration.
Correcting racial injustices, as our colleague Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins reminds us, is part of the struggle to build environments and places, rural and urban, where people can thrive. That is why the NRDC is raising its voice in favor of these important bills.
Many farmers and workers have been neglected by U.S. agriculture and food policies throughout our history, including during this pandemic. Producers of Color have had to weather the COVID-19 crisis with already limited resources, a predictable result of systemic discrimination denying them access to secure land tenure, credit and support services that the USDA is expanding to others. Meanwhile, relief from last year’s pandemic in the form of the CARES law and other laws has mainly benefited well-heeled agribusinesses such as Brazilian meat packaging giant JBS and large farms already well capitalized and largely owned by whites. Of the $ 9.2 billion disbursed under the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (COFOG) through October 2020, for example, nearly 97% went to white farmers, according to analysis USDA data obtained as part of FOIA by MacArthur Genius Thomas Mitchell and colleagues at Land Loss and the Reparations Research Project.
Government direct payments to farmers in 2020 totaled $ 46 billion, $ 35 billion in emergency aid and an additional $ 10 billion through conventional subsidy programs already in place. By design, the larger a farm’s production, the bigger the check it receives, up to a maximum of $ 750,000 per farm, whether or not the owners of that farm are in financial difficulty. The recently introduced bills are a step in the right direction to overcome injustice in the food system, while also tackling climate change and other shocks that have made agriculture less predictable and riskier. They would fund long overdue programs that hold great promise in leading the nation towards a healthier and more resilient, as well as more equitable, food system in the future. Here are some highlights:
- Extending Equitable Opportunities and Access to Credit to Producers of Color. In the House package, lawmakers recognize that “long-standing and pervasive discrimination” prevents producers of color from “fully participating in the American agricultural economy.” Decades of discriminatory USDA policies have left producers of color with fewer financial resources to mobilize, including less secure land titles, access to credit, and working capital; COVID-19 and its economic fallout have only exacerbated these long-standing financial disparities. The House package would set aside funds to help relieve farmers of color from their unjust debt burden, as would the Farmers of Color Emergency Relief Act. The latter also includes funding to support cooperatives mostly governed by and for producers of color, and to develop new financial institutions granting loans specifically to producers of color.
- Government’s Responsibility to Producers of Color. Further action will be needed to eradicate institutional racism from the USDA, possibly regaining some of the trust it has lost among non-white farmers and ranchers. To this end, the Black Farmers Justice Act would create a series of civil rights reforms within the agency, including the establishment of an office of the Deputy Secretary of Civil Rights, an equity commission in USDA scale and an independent oversight board. USDA Equity Commission funding is also specified under the Farmer of Color Emergency Relief Act.
- Targeted tools, training for color producers. As Congress and the new administration take steps to become more accountable, they must also ensure that institutions and organizations that have a strong track record of meeting the needs of producers of color and their communities will receive funding to expand. these efforts. For example, the House Reconciliation Package and Black Farmers’ Justice Act include funding for universities and organizations serving people of color that can be used for research, technical assistance, navigation. on legal issues, scholarships, education and awareness. The Black Farmer Justice Act would specifically fund historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to research regenerative farming practices and market opportunities for producers of color, two key priorities for building a fairer and more resilient food system. .
- New job opportunities in agriculture. The Black Farmer Justice Act would also create a Farm Conservation Corps providing jobs and skills training for at least 20,000 young people of color each year to work on farms run by colored growers, new growers and smallholders. organic producers. The proposal fits well with President Biden’s climate decree, which calls for a civilian climate body that will create jobs by restoring ecosystems and harnessing the carbon sequestration potential of agriculture. Having a motivated and newly trained cohort of farmers of color with expertise in climate-friendly organic farming will help the United States produce healthier, more sustainable food and build wealth in farming communities.
- Support for resilient regional food chains. The House reconciliation package includes $ 4 billion that USDA can use for several purposes, including supporting small and medium-sized producers and to “maintain and improve the resilience of the food and agricultural supply chain.” The conflicting crises of COVID-19, a struggling economy and climate change, as highlighted by the NRDC and allied organizations, underscore why public investment in resilience through more diverse and decentralized agriculture is more critical than never.
More than a few years, perhaps decades, are needed to right long-standing injustices and rebuild a USDA and a larger food system that fully rewards producers of color for their hard work and innovation. Recent developments in Congress signal momentum towards these long overdue changes in the country’s food and agricultural policies. At NRDC, we are ready to do our part to help make them happen.