Land reform

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Farmers protesting for land reform in Indonesia, 2004 Jakarta farmers protest23.jpg
Farmers protesting for land reform in Indonesia, 2004

Land reform (also agrarian reform, though that can have a broader meaning) involves the changing of laws, regulations or customs regarding land ownership. [1] Land reform may consist of a government-initiated or government-backed property redistribution, generally of agricultural land. Land reform can, therefore, refer to transfer of ownership from the more powerful to the less powerful, such as from a relatively small number of wealthy (or noble) owners with extensive land holdings (e.g., plantations, large ranches, or agribusiness plots) to individual ownership by those who work the land. [2] Such transfers of ownership may be with or without compensation; compensation may vary from token amounts to the full value of the land. [3]


Land reform may also entail the transfer of land from individual ownership—even peasant ownership in smallholdings—to government-owned collective farms; it has also, in other times and places, referred to the exact opposite: division of government-owned collective farms into smallholdings. [4] The common characteristic of all land reforms, however, is modification or replacement of existing institutional arrangements governing possession and use of land. Thus, while land reform may be radical in nature, such as through large-scale transfers of land from one group to another, it can also be less dramatic, such as regulatory reforms aimed at improving land administration. [5]

Nonetheless, any revision or reform of a country's land laws can still be an intensely political process, as reforming land policies serves to change relationships within and between communities, as well as between communities and the state. Thus even small-scale land reforms and legal modifications may be subject to intense debate or conflict. [6]

Land usage and tenure

Land ownership and tenure can be perceived as controversial in part because ideas defining what it means to access or control land, such as through "land ownership" or "land tenure", can vary considerably across regions and even within countries. [7] Land reforms, which change what it means to control land, therefore create tensions and conflicts between those who lose and those who gain from these redefinitions (see next section). [8]

Western conceptions of land have evolved over the past several centuries to place greater emphasis on individual land ownership, formalized through documents such as land titles. [9] Control over land, however, may also be perceived less in terms of individual ownership and more in terms of land use, or through what is known as land tenure. [10] Historically, in many parts of Africa for example, land was not owned by an individual, but rather used by an extended family or a village community. Different people in a family or community had different rights to access this land for different purposes and at different times. Such rights were often conveyed through oral history and not formally documented. [11]

These different ideas of land ownership and tenure are sometimes referred to using different terminology. For example, "formal" or "statutory" land systems refer to ideas of land control more closely affiliated with individual land ownership. "Informal" or "customary" land systems refer to ideas of land control more closely affiliated with land tenure. [12]

Terms dictating control over and use of land can therefore take many forms. Some specific examples of present-day or historic forms of formal and informal land ownership include:


Land reform is a deeply political process [13] and therefore many arguments for and against it have emerged. These arguments vary tremendously over time and place. For example, in the twentieth century, many land reforms emerged from a particular political ideology, such as communism or socialism. Or, as can be seen in the 19th century in colonized states, a colonial government may have changed the laws dictating land ownership to better consolidate political power or to support its colonial economy. [14] In more recent times, electoral mobilization and the use of land as a patronage resource have been proposed as possible motivations for land reform efforts, such as the extensive redistributive land reforms of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. [15]

Arguments for

Land reforms need not be as dramatic in scale as Zimbabwe. Today many arguments in support of land reform focus on its potential social and economic benefits, particularly in developing countries, that may emerge from reforms focused on greater land formalization. Such benefits may include eradicating food insecurity and alleviating rural poverty. [16]

And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

Arguments in support of such reforms gained particular momentum after the publication of "The Mystery of Capital" by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto in 2000. The poor, he argues, are often unable to secure formal property rights, such as land titles, to the land on which they live or farm because of poor governance, corruption and/or overly complex bureaucracies. Without land titles or other formal documentation of their land assets, they are less able to access formal credit. Political and legal reforms within countries, according to de Soto, will help to include the poor in formal legal and economic systems, increase the poor's ability to access credit and contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction. [18]

Many international development organizations and bilateral and multilateral donors, such as the World Bank, have embraced de Soto's ideas, or similar ideas, about the benefits of greater formalized land rights. [19] This has translated into a number of development programs that work with governments and civil society organizations to initiate and implement land reforms. [20] Evidence to support the economic and pro-poor benefits of increased formalized land rights are, however, still inconclusive according to some critics (see "Arguments against land reform" below).

Other arguments in support of land reform point to the need to alleviate conflicting land laws, particularly in former colonies, where formal and informal land systems may exist in tension with each other. [21] Such conflicts can make marginalized groups vulnerable to further exploitation. [22] For example, in many countries in Africa with conflicting land laws, AIDS stigmatization has led to an increasing number of AIDS widows being kicked off marital land by in-laws. [23] While the woman may have both customary and statutory rights to the land, confusion over which set of laws has primacy, or even a lack of knowledge of relevant laws, leave many AIDS widows at a significant disadvantage. Also, conflicting formal and informal land laws can also clog a country's legal system, making it prone to corruption. [24]

Additional arguments for land reform focus on the potential environmental benefits of reform. For example, if reform leads to greater security of land ownership, through either formal or informal means, then those that use the land will be better stewards of it. [25]

Arguments against

Many of the arguments in support of land reform speak to its potentially positive social and economic outcomes. Yet, as mentioned previously, land reform is an intensely political process. [8] Thus, many of those opposed to land reform are nervous as to the underlying motivations of those initiating the reform. For example, some may fear that they will be disadvantaged or victimized as a result of the reforms. Others may fear that they will lose out in the economic and political power struggles that underlie many land reforms. [26]

Other groups and individuals express concerns about land reforms focused on formalization of property rights. While the economic and social benefits of formalized land rights are often touted, some research suggests that such reforms are either ineffective or may cause further hardship or conflict. [27]

Additional arguments against land reform focus on concerns over equity issues and potential elite capture of land, particularly in regards to reforms focused on greater land formalization. If improperly or inadequately implemented, critics worry that such reforms may further disadvantage marginalized groups such as indigenous communities or women. [28] These concerns also lead to questions about the institutional capacity of governments to implement land reforms as they are designed. Even if a country does have this capacity, critics worry that corruption and patrimonialism will lead to further elite capture. [29]

In looking at more radical reforms, such as large-scale land redistribution, arguments against reform include concerns that redistributed land will not be used productively and that owners of expropriated land will not be compensated adequately or compensated at all. Zimbabwe, again, is a commonly cited example of the perils of such large-scale reforms, whereby land redistribution contributed to economic decline and increased food insecurity in the country. [30] In cases where land reform has been enacted as part of socialist collectivization, many of the arguments against collectivization more generally apply.

National efforts

An early example of land reform was the Irish Land Acts of 1870–1909. Nearly all newly independent countries of Eastern and Central Europe implemented land reforms in the aftermath of World War I. In most countries the land in excess of certain limit (20–500 ha (49–1,236 acres) depending on the region and type of land) was expropriated, in Finland it was redeemed and placed into special fund. [31]

See also

Related Research Articles

Hernando de Soto Polar Peruvian economist

Hernando de Soto Polar is a prominent Peruvian economist known for his work on the informal economy and on the importance of business and property rights. His work on the developing world has earned him praise worldwide by numerous heads of state, particularly for his publication The Mystery of Capital. He is the current president of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD), a think tank devoted in promoting economic development in developing countries located in Lima, Peru.

Land reform in Zimbabwe officially began in 1980 with the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement, as an Anti-racist effort to more equitably distribute land between black subsistence farmers and white Zimbabweans of European ancestry, who had traditionally enjoyed superior political and economic status. The programme's stated targets were intended to alter the ethnic balance of land ownership.

Land tenure

In common law systems, land tenure is the legal regime in which land is owned by an individual, who is said to "hold" the land. It determines who can use land, for how long and under what conditions. Tenure may be based both on official laws and policies, and on informal customs. In other words, land tenure system implies a system according to which land is held by an individual or the actual tiller of the land. It determines the owners rights and responsibilities in connection with their holding. The French verb "tenir" means "to hold" and "tenant" is the present participle of "tenir". The sovereign monarch, known as The Crown, held land in its own right. All private owners are either its tenants or sub-tenants. Tenure signifies the relationship between tenant and lord, not the relationship between tenant and land. Over history, many different forms of land ownership, i.e., ways of owning land, have been established.

Land law is the form of law that deals with the rights to use, alienate, or exclude others from land. In many jurisdictions, these kinds of property are referred to as real estate or real property, as distinct from personal property. Land use agreements, including renting, are an important intersection of property and contract law. Encumbrance on the land rights of one, such as an easement, may constitute the land rights of another. Mineral rights and water rights are closely linked, and often interrelated concepts.

Poverty in Africa

Poverty in Africa is the lack of provision to satisfy the basic human needs of certain people in Africa. African nations typically fall toward the bottom of any list measuring small size economic activity, such as income per capita or GDP per capita, despite a wealth of natural resources. In 2009, 22 of 24 nations identified as having "Low Human Development" on the United Nations' (UN) Human Development Index were in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2006, 34 of the 50 nations on the UN list of least developed countries were in Africa. In many nations, GDP per capita is less than US$5200 per year, with the vast majority of the population living on much less. In addition, Africa's share of income has been consistently dropping over the past century by any measure. In 1820, the average European worker earned about three times what the average African did. Now, the average European earns twenty times what the average African does. Although GDP per capita incomes in Africa have also been steadily growing, measures are still far better in other parts of the world.

Agrarian reform can refer either, narrowly, to government-initiated or government-backed redistribution of agricultural land or, broadly, to an overall redirection of the agrarian system of the country, which often includes land reform measures. Agrarian reform can include credit measures, training, extension, land consolidations, etc. The World Bank evaluates agrarian reform using five dimensions: (1) stocks and market liberalization, (2) land reform, (3) agro-processing and input supply channels, (4) urban finance, (5) market institutions.

Deforestation in Ethiopia

Deforestation in Ethiopia is due to locals clearing forests for their personal needs, such as for fuel, hunting, agriculture, and at times for religious reasons. The main causes of deforestation in Ethiopia are shifting agriculture, livestock production and fuel in drier areas. Deforestation is the process of removing the forest ecosystem by cutting the trees and changing the shape of the land to suit different uses.

Agriculture in Pakistan

Agriculture is considered the backbone of Pakistan's economy, which relies heavily on its major crops. Pakistan's principal natural resources are arable land and water. Agriculture accounts for about 18.9% of Pakistan's GDP and employs about 42.3% of the labour force. In Pakistan, the most agricultural province is Punjab where wheat and cotton are the most grown. Mango orchards are mostly found in Sindh and Punjab provinces that make Pakistan the world's 4th largest producer of mangoes.

The problem of land reform in Ethiopia has hampered that country's economic development throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries. Attempts to modernize land ownership by giving title either to the peasants who till the soil, or to large-scale farming programs, have been tried under imperial rulers like Emperor Haile Selassie, and under Marxist regimes like the Derg, with mixed results. The present Constitution of Ethiopia, which was put into force January 1995, vests land ownership exclusively "in the State and in the peoples of Ethiopia." The relevant section continues, "Land is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange." Despite these different approaches to land reform, Ethiopia still faces issues of sustainable food self-sufficiency.

Land titling is a form of land reform in which private individuals and families are given formal property rights for land which they have previously occupied informally or used on the basis of customary land tenure. Proponents argue that providing formal titles increases security of land tenure, supports development of markets in land, and allows better access to credit. Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto Polar is the most well-known advocate of the approach, but it has a long history. Recently, "inspired by these ideas, and fostered by international development agencies, land titling programs have been launched throughout developing and transition economies as part of poverty alleviation efforts." The goals of poverty alleviation and urban management, however, can lead to conflicts in the design of land titling programs.

Women's property rights are property and inheritance rights enjoyed by women as a category within society at any point in time. The patterns and rights of property ownership vary between societies and are influenced by cultural, racial, political, and legal factors. The lack of control over both productive and non-productive resources that is apparent in both rural and urban settings places women at a reduced level of advantage in areas of security of home, maintaining a basis for survival, and accessing economic opportunities. Development-related problems faced across the globe have been increasingly linked to women's lack of property and inheritance rights, especially in regard to land and property ownership, encompassing areas such as low levels of education, hunger, and poor health. Thus land property rights, through their impact on patterns of production, distribution of wealth, as well as market development, has evolved as one of the prerequisites of economic growth and poverty reduction.

Land reform refers to efforts to reform the ownership and regulation of land in India. Or, Those lands which are redistributed by the government from landholders to landless people for agriculture or special purpose is known as Land Reform.

Chinese property law has existed in various forms for centuries. After the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949, most land is owned by collectivities or by the state; the Property Law of the People's Republic of China passed in 2007 codified property rights.

Landesa Rural Development Institute is a nonprofit organization that partners with governments and local organizations to secure legal land rights for the world's poorest families. Since 1967, Landesa has helped more than 180 million poor families in 50 countries gain legal control over their land. When families have secure rights to land, they can invest in their land to sustainably increase their harvests and reap the benefits—improved nutrition, health, education, and dignity.

Gender and food security

Gender inequality both leads to and is a result of food insecurity. According to estimates women and girls make up 60% of the world's chronically hungry and little progress has been made in ensuring the equal right to food for women enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Women face discrimination both in education and employment opportunities and within the household, where their bargaining power is lower. On the other hand, gender equality is described as instrumental to ending malnutrition and hunger. Women tend to be responsible for food preparation and childcare within the family and are more likely to be spent their income on food and their children's needs. The gendered aspects of food security are visible along the four pillars of food security: availability, access, utilization and stability, as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Agrarian reform and land reform have been a recurring theme of enormous consequence in world history. They are often highly political and have been achieved in many countries.

Collective farming Type of agricultural organization

Collective farming and communal farming are various types of "agricultural production in which multiple farmers run their holdings as a joint enterprise". There are two broad types of communal farms: Agricultural cooperatives, in which member-owners jointly engage in farming activities as a collective, and state farms, which are owned and directly run by a centralized government. The process by which farmland is aggregated is called collectivization. In some countries, there have been both state-run and cooperative-run variants. For example, the Soviet Union had both kolkhozy and sovkhozy.

Ancestral domain or ancestral lands refers to the lands, territories and resources of indigenous peoples, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. The term differs from indigenous land rights, Aboriginal title or Native Title by directly indicating relationship to land based on ancestry, while domain indicates relationships beyond material lands and territories, including spiritual and cultural aspects that may not be acknowledged in land titles and legal doctrine about trading ownership.

Land reform in South Africa is the promise of "land restitution" to empower farm workers and reduce inequality. This also refers to aspects such as, property, possibly white owned businesses. It is believed to allow previously unemployed people to participate in the economy and better the country's economic growth. It also relates to restitution in the form of settling Land Claims of people who were forcefully removed from their homes in urban areas that were declared white, by the apartheid government's segregationist Group Areas Act: such areas include Sophiatown, Fietas, Cato Manor, District Six and Greyville; as well as restitution for people forcibly evicted from rural land because of apartheid policies.

Agrarian reforms or land reforms of Azerbaijan is a set of laws designed and adopted by State Commission on Agrarian Reforms since 1995.


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Further reading