Rights of African American Farmers
Since the initial charge from God to till and keep the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15), farming has been an integral part of humankind's existence-providing nourishment for our bodies and a connection with the Creation. As agribusiness has grown and population centers shifted toward urban areas, the intimate connection between our food, the hands that harvest it, and God's Creation has been strained.
While The United Methodist Church supports "the right of persons and families to live and prosper as farmers" (Social Principles, ¶ 162N), society has failed to fully value the essential contributions of farmers. This growing disconnect, combined with long-established patterns of racism in the United States, has created a crisis among African American farmers.
Over the past 100 years, the number of African American farmers in the United States has shrunk from over 925,000 to fewer than 18,000 today. The share of farmland owned by African American farmers likewise has shrunk from roughly 14 percent to less than 1 percent.
These losses have been accelerated by a lack of access to capital, technical information, and legal resources needed to train and develop agricultural holdings into stable, income-producing, self-sustaining operations. Although the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is charged with assisting all farmers, a 1997 report by the USDA entitled, Civil Rights at the United States Department of Agriculture, confirmed widespread discrimination within the agency. These discriminatory practices denied farmers access to loan approval, loan servicing, and farm management assistance.
Despite a landmark class action settlement reached with USDA in 1999 providing a system of payments for farmers who faced discrimination, the struggle for justice continues. Many African American farmers were shut out of the settlement process and thousands of others heard about the settlement only after the deadline for filing a claim had passed.
In order to ensured justice for all farmers and the preservation of a unique and vital heritage of rural communities, The United Methodist Church:
- reaffirms its support for a settlement aimed at redressing discriminatory practices by USDA;
- calls on USDA to establish a process to reevaluate pending claims by African American farmers based on the merits rather than flawed bureaucratic deadlines;
- calls on USDA to establish and enforce strict guidelines on agency outreach and action to guard against further discrimination;
- calls on the United States Congress to fully fund the Minority Farm Outreach and Technical Assistance Program;
- and, recognizing the critical need for community, government, and private sector collaboration to help stem the decline of African American farmland, calls on the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global Ministries to work with community-based organizations such as the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund to care for the needs of African American farmers in the United States.
resolution #235, 2004 Book of Resolutions
resolution #222, 2000 Book of Resolutions
See Social Principles, ¶ 163A and H.
From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2008. Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.