Opinion | Black farmers can finally get the help they deserve
On January 27, the USDA ad an immediate moratorium on debt collection and foreclosure for the more than 12,000 farmers who are behind in payments to two programs administered by the USDA’s Agricultural Services Agency – of which about a quarter are black or, to use the term recognized by the federal government, otherwise “socially disadvantaged.”
Soon after, Senator Raphael Warnock, Democrat of Georgia, introduced (with Mr. Booker, Ben Ray Luján from New Mexico and Debbie Stabenow from Michigan) the Farmer of Color Emergency Relief Act, which provides direct relief payments to help socially disadvantaged farmers pay off their debts . With the active support of the USDA, Mr. Warnock’s bill and certain provisions of Mr. Booker were then incorporated in the Covid Relief Bill.
So this bill now includes $ 4 billion for direct relief payments that will help farmers of color recover from the pandemic and pay off their USDA farm loan debts and related taxes, as well as a billion dollars to be used in part to address long-standing inequality in access to USDA Programs.
This help to indebted black farmers is a big step forward, but it is hardly enough – and Mr. Booker and others recognize it. It’s time to focus on the future as well, especially what black farmers need to stay and thrive on the land, and how to establish new farmers.
A larger land grant program may soon pass in Congress as an attempt to create a new generation of black farmers. Imagine, for example, that the federal government could buy land from farmers who cash in for their retirement so that instead of being absorbed by existing large landowners, the land could be redistributed to smaller or entry-level farmers of color. , within the framework of easements which impose sustainable practices. (An example of how this might work is the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust.)
Note that the new proposals in the Pandemic Relief Bill would serve to integrate black farmers into an agricultural system that exists at the expense of the original inhabitants of the land. And it’s important to look at where the “new” lands come from and how we begin to make amends to Indigenous peoples, a problem those in power today would probably prefer to avoid.