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Report: Cargill got Colombian land meant for small farmers

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Thousands of acres of land in Colombia bought by agribusiness giant Cargill should have gone instead to small-scale farmers, the social justice group Oxfam America says.

  Deals for more than 124,000 acres in recent years violate the spirit of government policies there intended to encourage family farming, Oxfam said in a report released Friday.

  Fostering small farms is a key to settling Colombia's long civil conflict, said Oxfam's Chris Jochnick. "Small scale farmers are a more direct way to address poverty in many cases. And in Colombia, 80 percent of land is held by 14 percent of owners. You have to address that, as a matter of national urgency."

  Minnetonka-based Cargill says its purchases were fair and legal and the farms were in a remote, sparsely populated part of the country lacking roads and electricity. Cargill said it invested an average of $2 million in each of the dozens of farms it bought.

  "The small holder farmer is unable to succeed if there are no roads, if there is no way to market crops. And that is certainly the situation that existed when we came into the region," Cargill spokeswoman Lori Johnson said.

  The farms averaged 3,700 acres in size. The Cargill land purchases in Colombia are equivalent to about four times the area of Minneapolis.