Though there is a long, rich history of Black farmers in the United States: a century ago, Black families owned an estimated 15 million acres and operated 14 percent of all U.S. farms. But decades of systemic discrimination and the abuse of legal loopholes have robbed black families of millions of acres of farmland worth billions of dollars and forced the vast majority out of the industry.
In order to correct racial inequities in agricultural policies and institutions, Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the Justice for Black Farmers Act, the most comprehensive piece of food and agricultural justice legislation proposed in modern American history.
The bill aims to:
· End discrimination within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) by creating a civil rights oversight board to investigate reports of discrimination, review appeals of civil rights complains, and provide oversight of Farm Service Agency county committees.
· Protect Black-owned land by assisting Black farmers with succession planning, land ownership issues, and the development of farmer cooperatives. The act would also create a new bank to finance Black farmer credit unions and would forgive USDA debt for farmers who filed claims in the Pigford v. Glickman class action lawsuit.
· Restore land to Black farmers by creating an Equitable Land Access Service within USDA to acquire farmland and provide land grants of up to 160 acres to existing and aspiring Black farmers.
· Train the next generation of Black farmers by providing them with the academic, vocational, and social skills necessary to pursue careers in farming and ranching. Farmers who participate in this training program would have priority for grants through the Equitable Land Access Service.
· Support historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and nonprofits that serve Black farmers so they can identify land for land grants, offer farming training, and provide other support, including succession planning and legal assistance.
· Assist socially disadvantaged farmers by increasing funding for technical assistance and conservation programs. The act would give these farmers priority for such programs as well as increased access to capital.
· Helps all farmers and ranchers by addressing corporate control of the food system and restoring competition to agricultural markets.
National Farmers Union (NFU), which promotes “efforts to remedy historical inequities in access to farm programs and other systemic barriers” that hold back socially disadvantaged farmers, endorsed the bill. In a statement, NFU President Rob Larew called the Justice for Black Farmers Act "the most consequential racial equity legislation the agricultural sector has seen to date" and said it was "a big and important step towards giving farmers of all races a fair shot at success." He urged Congress to take up the legislation and "guarantee Black farmers the fair treatment they have so long deserved."
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