Turning Peasants Into Landowners

  • Overseas
  • 1982

In 1982, Seattle lawyer and philanthropist Chi-Dooh “Skip” Li heard a guest speaker at his church suggest that helping poor Latin Americans buy the land that they were farming might be the best solution to the unrest and insurrections then sweeping that region. Li went to Guatemala to do some research and returned home convinced that rural people would always be vulnerable, economically and politically, until they owned their own land. He began to formulate a plan for a new nonprofit called Agros that would allow private donors to acquire farms, stabilize the title and pay off taxes, and then sell the plots to the low-income tenants through many small payments.

The first project in Guatemala survived guerrilla war and eventually thrived, and in 1995 a ceremony was held to transfer title to the residents. The process was then repeated in other villages in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico, and Honduras. Gradually, the effort added health services, agricultural training, help in selling produce, and other features, but the focus continued to be private ownership of the land, and the great stimulus to productivity and good citizenship that this provides. As of 2015, 10,000 people in 42 Latin American communities directly benefited from Agros. A third of those participants had already completed payment and earned full title to their own land, and the rest were on course to do the same.

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