Red Tierras

Mercy Corps is helping indigenous farmers in Guatemala, Colombia and Bolivia gain fair title to the land they rightfully own.

Many countries in Latin America have a harsh history of inequitable land ownership. In Bolivia, for example, 60-70 percent of farmable land is held by only a few thousand large landowners, and 65 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, with 40 percent living in extreme poverty. This dynamic disenfranchises the indigenous farming communities that have lived on and worked the land for generations — but lack the legal means to prove that land is rightfully theirs.

Property titles represent an enormous step forward for these land owners. They are the first step toward economic opportunity, stability and a better quality of life. It’s a paradigm familiar to anyone who has rented a home before buying one: as owners, we tend to invest more labor and resources to improve our property, knowing that the upgrade will benefit our own families.

Over the past nine years, our Red Tierras program — which means "land network" in English — has resolved 350 land disputes to benefit 115,000 indigenous farmers and their families in Guatemala and Colombia. It won the prestigious Ashoka Changemakers award in 2011, acknowledging its creative approach to land tenure. The program expanded to Bolivia in 2012 to test new mobile technologies to speed up the land titling process in rural communities.