Federation of Southern Cooperatives
Land Assistance Fund

HISTORY
Historical Documents


 


In the four decades since the founding of the Federation  of Southern Cooperatives, there has been significant work, participation and development of low income people and their communities. 

There are three major themes of the Federation's mission, work and accomplishments over the past forty years: 

  • to develop cooperatives and credit unions as a means for people to enhance the quality of their lives and improve their communities;
  • to save, protect and expand the landholdings of Black family farmers in the South;
  • to develop, advocate and support public policies to benefit our membership of Black and other family farmers and low income rural communities.
Throughout its history, the Federation has woven these themes together to create a strong community based movement of organizations seeped in struggle, tested by time, experienced in fighting exploitation and knowledgeable of the tactics, tools and techniques needed to help people build their own property and progress. 

The Federation has maintained a membership of low income grassroots people, organized into cooperatives and credit unions to make quantitative and qualitative changes in their lives and communities. Currently, there are over 70 active cooperative member groups, themselves with a membership of more than 20,000 families working together across ten southern states, with a concentration in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. 

Federation Merges With Emergency Land Fund
 From its beginnings, the Federation was dedicated to saving and enhancing the land resources owned by its small family farmer members in the South. This goal was significantly advanced when the Federation merged in 1985 with the Emergency Land Fund, a sister organization working on the crisis in Black land ownership. The new organization, called the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, was able to provide more extensive land protection services to Black farmers within cooperatives and other interested farmers, some of whom were later organized into cooperatives 

Saving Black Owned Land
Despite the overall decline in the number of Black farmers and land owners in the South from over 100,000 owning 8 million acres in 1960 to less than 20,000 today owning 2.3 million acres, the Federation continues to work with thousands of these landowners. Those Black farmers affiliated with the Federation have learned how to save, protect and use their land in a sustainable manner. With our help, family farmers have developed alternative and more appropriate agricultural and forestry enterprises to sustain land ownership. More outreach, education and technical support is clearly needed but without the Federation, we are convinced that significantly  more land would have been lost over the decades.  A major focus in the coming decades is how to more effectively utilize the remaining valuable land-base owned by Black people in the South. 

The Federation was developed by community organizations and leaders molded and forged in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. These people understood that a successful community development process involved both activities showing progress through alternative means and advocacy for change in public policies that would help support, permit and institutionalize those changes. The Federation has been active over the years in advocating at the local, state and national level for public policies to assist Black farmers and develop persistently poor rural communities. 

1992 “Caravan To Washington” In Support Of Black Farmers 
 The Federation has consistently worked at the cutting edges of family farm and rural issues giving leadership and support to coalitions with other groups; often sacrificing funding and acceptance to make our positions known. Starting in the 1980's, the Federation worked without members to develop the basic outline of a "minority farmers rights bill" to assist people of color family farmers across the nation. The Federation sponsored a Caravan of Black and Native American Farmers" to Washington, DC in September 1992, which included demonstrations at state capitols, the U.S. Capitol and at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We have participated as plaintiffs in lawsuits and organized in rural communities to build a base for change. With hard work, collaboration with many other groups, and a consistent program of community and civic education, the Federation was able to get portions of this advocacy agenda incorporated in national farm legislation. 

1990 Farm Legislation Targeted For Black Farmers
The Agriculture Credit Act of 1987 targeted the government's farm ownership and inventory land sale program to people of color farmers. The 1990 FACT Act contained Section 2501, which recognized the problems of minority farmers and provided an authorization of $10 million for an "Outreach, Education and Technical Assistance Program for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers". While appropriations have never reached the $10 million level, the program serving 1890 Land Grant Colleges, tribal colleges, and community based organizations, is the major Federal program addressing the needs and problems of Black farmers.  The 1996 FACT Act continued many of the programs in the 1990 Act, especially those authorized in Section 2501. 

1997 Listening Sessions And CRAT Recommendations
In 1997, the Federation actively supported and participated in a series of "Listening Sessions on Civil Rights" initiated by the Secretary of Agriculture. The Federation helped to organize the listening sessions in Albany, Georgia; Memphis, Tennessee; and Belzoni, Mississippi which involved helping to bring hundreds of farmers to the sessions to tell their stories of neglect and discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

From the listening sessions, the USDA developed a report on the problems of civil rights actions and enforcement by the government. A Civil  Rights Action Team was established to implement the USDA's responses to the report Federation staff has met with implementation groups appointed by the Civil Rights Action Team to work on issues of agricultural credit, small farm outreach, a registry of minority farmers dealing with the back log of civil rights complaints at USDA and other issues. While we have seen many reports over the past thirty years, including the 1982 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report which said, "unless the federal government changes its policies, there will be no Black farmers by the year 2000,"   we are hopeful that this report coupled with the Secretary of Agriculture's priority concern and the nation's renewed interest in issues of race will make a significant difference for Black and other family farmers. 

The Federation has always faced opposition and sometimes overt hostility and racism in trying to improve the quality of life for its members at the community level and influence complex issues and regulations in the halls of Congress and the corporate boardrooms of America which control the global marketing, processing and distribution of our agricultural products. A key to our strategy for change has been to develop local leaders through our cooperatives and credit unions that are  willing to ''speak truth to power” at the local courthouse state legislature or to Congress win Washington D.C. 

With the collaboration of many other organizations, the National Cooperative Business Association, National Cooperative Bank, FARM AID, Southern Rural Development Initiative, National Family Farm Coalition, Rural Development Leadership Network, 1890 Land Grant Colleges and Universities, Alabama Organization Program, to name just some, the Federation is continuing to build human capacity, management, marketing, housing, training, computer networking and other capabilities necessary to move the organization forward . We have worked hard - but we need to work harder; we have planned - but we need to plan better; and we have held true to our cooperative development mission - but we must achieve even greater self-sufficiency. 


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