Several Democratic senators are on a mission to reverse decades of discriminatory practices by the Agriculture Department against Black-owned farms.
Most rural land in America is owned by white people, but the Justice for Black Farmers Act, introduced earlier this month by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., could expand Black-owned farmland. The new legislature would offer land grants to Black farmers, allowing them to reclaim up to 160 acres each, at no charge, per ABC News.
"I think it's definitely a step in the right direction ... but we need to create pipelines for African Americans to be educated on a 21st-century farm," said Kamal Bell, the 29-year-old CEO of Sankofa Farms, a family-owned business in Durham, North Carolina. "The production aspect of how to stay in business isn't taught to you. ... We learned this on our own and from other Black farmers we ended up meeting."
The Justice for Black Farmers Act, set to be released November 30, was co-sponsored with senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), with lead sponsor Sen. Booker telling Mother Jones that the bill is vital to reversing the “destructive forces that were unleashed upon Black farmers over the past century—one of the dark corners of shame in American history,”
“When it comes to farming and agriculture, we know that there is a direct connection between discriminatory practices within the USDA and the enormous land loss we have seen among Black farmers in the past century,” said Booker. He said the bill “would enact reforms within the USDA to finally end discrimination within that agency, would protect the remaining Black farmers from losing their land, and would provide land grants to create a new generation of Black farmers and begin to restore the land base that has been lost by Black farmers due to outrageous discrimination over past decades.”
According to America’s Farm Report, here’s a breakdown of the new Senate bill:
- Up to 32 million acres would move to Black ownership over a decade
- A new USDA agency, the Equitable Land Access Service, would administer the program.
- The legislation would increase funding to $50 million a year for a USDA re-lending program to resolve the “heirs property” issue of land passed from one generation of a family to another without a clear title.
“The Justice for Black Farmers Act is the most ambitious legislative proposal ever developed to address historic and ongoing discrimination against Black farmers,” said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, and Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group, two groups that endorsed the bill. “Black farmers have been systemically denied access to land, subsidies, loans, and other critical tools through government and private discrimination, and the institutional racism that has driven Black land loss is being reinforced through the USDA’s broken policies.”