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This article has been copied from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) site at
SD DIMENSIONS / Land Tenure / Analysis   Posted 24 March 2000

Contemporary thinking on land reform1

bulletI. Events taking place in Member Nations that have led to a reappraisal of land reform
bulletII. Types of land reform
bulletImposed redistributive reforms
bulletLand tenure reform
bulletNegotiated land tenure reforms
bulletMarket-led reform
bulletLand reform through restitution
bulletIII. The Gap between theory and practice: land reform and the goals of the World Food Summit
bulletIV. Current FAO initiatives
bulletBox 1
bulletBox 2 Regional examples of redistributive land reform
bulletBox 3 Land leases and land reform
bulletBox 4 Land tenure reform in Thailand and Mexico
bulletBox 5 Assisting the market to give the poor access to land in Colombia
bulletBox 6 The Philippines shows that a strong civil society and government can work together
bulletBox 7 Land markets
bulletBox 8 Land restitution in Eastern and Central Europe and South Africa


This very brief paper first examines the principal causes for the re-emergence of land and agrarian reform on the development agenda following a period of disenchantment on the part of the major development and funding agencies. Part two contrasts the major types of current initiatives that are being tried in place of classical redistributive land reform. In the final section of the paper we try to link the lessons learned so far, and their importance to food security, rural poverty alleviation and achieving the goals of the World Food Summit (WFS). While this paper introduces the topic of new ways of looking at land reform as an appropriate tool, it is intended to be informative rather than a policy document. Hopefully, it will also stimulate FAO to think about developing a position on technical assistance in Member Nations' land reform programmes.

Land reform is back on the international and national agendas. The fact that FAO is being asked to assist Member Nations in land reform projects in all of its regions today is both to be expected and at the same time surprising. It is to be expected because from its founding FAO has been mandated to assist in land reform where it is judged by countries to be needed.

Box 1

"Recourse to land reform may be necessary to remove impediments to economic and social progress resulting from an inadequate system of land tenure." (FAO Conference, 1945)

During the course of its existence FAO has worked on every aspect of land and agrarian reform and has produced over a thousand papers, studies and project documents.2

What is surprising, however, is the rapidity with which land and agrarian reform has been returned to the development agenda by the major donors. As recently as the 1995 FAO Conference, Member Nations who are now asking for FAO collaboration in land reform projects were calling for its elimination from the programme of work and budget.

I. Events taking place in Member Nations that have led to a reappraisal of land reform

First and foremost land reform is back on the agenda because rural populations have put it there. Indeed, the demand by rural populations for access to land and other rural resources, needed for food self sufficiency, has never stopped.3 This is especially true in those situations where under-utilised or idle land and grossly unequal land holdings are found in the same communities with landless and poor rural producers. While the protest by the rural poor have never ceased, today there are a number of concomitant processes that give added weight to their demands. First, the process of awareness. The protracted Uruguay Round and the establishment of WTO have formalised and allowed an unprecedented rise in cross border movement of people, goods, ideas and communication. Rural populations are participating in the stream of world information and development discussions in ways that were impossible a decade ago. At the same time news coverage brings to the homes of the comfortable the tragedies of Rwanda, Somalia and Chiapas, the Internet and the World Wide Web have allowed some rural populations and their civil society partners to keep the whole world abreast of land and agrarian issues in the invasions of land seekers in Malawi and Zimbabwe and by the Movimento Sem Terra in Brazil, as well as the continuing demand for restitution of property taken by previous regimes in South Africa and the former Soviet Union. This growth in awareness has brought new dimensions to land reform. The recognition by the women's movement and development practitioners alike that what rural women were telling them is true. In many parts of the world, rural women make up the bulk of agricultural producers but are the last to be included in land reform and rural asset distribution programmes.4

TABLE The percentages of rural household income from off-farm employment by region
Africa 45
Asia 32
Latin America 40
(Source: SOFA 1998. Special chapter on the role of non-farm income and employment in developing countries.)

The second is the unprecedented urbanisation and dependence of rural households on off-farm employment. Demographic trends are well understood. In many rural areas, population growth has stabilised or is actually declining but often skewed by gender, with men and youth migrating. The corresponding rise in urban populations has perhaps been in itself partially stimulated by the failure of previous land reform programmes to create viable livelihoods. The point to be emphasised in this paper is that the resulting change in rural household organisation ensures a continuous flow of communication (as well as remittances) between members of the rural community and those in the larger economy. Added to this, the dynamics of urbanisation during the last two decades has resulted in the fact that almost all rural communities have relatives in cities. In addition, these usually include relatives working internationally. This has two consequences. The first is the fact that there is strong support for land and agrarian reform programmes among urban populations and secondly that rural populations are aware of the whole political and economic liberalisation process taking place.5

This awareness places new demands on the social contract between rural citizens and their government and has supported the third process - the demand for rights. Citizenship today includes the right to have rights: to land and to other rural resources, to free movement, to information, to the means to have an adequate diet and to a sustainable environment. Where there is rural development we also find the definition of new rights and their protection in law. Indeed, most of the land reform movements generated at the grassroots are an assertion of the rights already guaranteed in national law and legislation, but never effectively applied. Nowhere is this more evident that the continuing effort to put into practice the legal rights available to rural women in regard to landed property. Land distribution programmes still often assume the recipient will be a male without proper investigation of equity and economic rights of women.6

The fourth process is the creation of new social contracts and coalitions especially the marked increase in the number and organisation of national and trans-national civil society. NGOs and farmer's groups have been able to combine forces into truly effective civil society organisations.7 These underscore the importance of civil society and growing institutional support for land reform as a confirmation of civil rights and social justice.8 This is exemplified in the recent statement "Towards a Better Distribution of Land" by the Vatican.9

For example, in the Philippines, which has one of the world's longest running and best known land reform programmes, it is a process that has always been stimulated by grassroots reaction. The previous reform programmes of 1745, 1936, 1946 and 1972 all tried to pacify the rural poor, rather than address the nature of the structure of rural economy and society that gave rise to poverty and hunger. The current, unprecedented success of implementation of the land reform that the country is currently experiencing is by government appraisal the result of the fact that "... agrarian reform can make faster headway with the partnerships among its key players: government, the farmers, the land owners and the NGOs. ... This [the persuasive force that the Filipino peasantry could muster] cannot be overemphasised. Each of these State responses showed that the Filipino peasant could play a central role in pushing for agrarian reform and in protecting whatever gains they have derived from government's pursuit of it."10

In contrast, land and agrarian reforms were definitely moved to the back burner during the 1970s, 1980s and first half of the 1990s, from an institutional point of view.11 First there were the downstream effects of structural adjustment. Countries that had the most to benefit from an agrarian and/or land reform were constrained by debt burden, budget deficits and the consequent reduction in public spending. This has been coupled with the realisation that the 1980s had made "a bad situation worse both within terms of the extent of poverty and in terms of the degree of inequality".12

At the same time there was an emerging new consensus on neo-liberal theory of economic growth summed up in terms of the New Institutional Economics, and a related group focusing more on fiscal and trade reforms broadly known as the Washington Consensus.13 This new paradigm was inherently opposed to policy interventions aimed at achieving social equity. There was the growing body of literature that pointed to development policy overcoming market distortions that prevented resources going to the best use. This meant that institutional change was needed to ensure that markets are free (not distorted) and the resources are allocated to the best use and users. Thus it became evident to development theoreticians that a disequilibrium existed in many countries between institutions and the situation at the grassroots level and that this served as an impediment to development.14 Land and natural resource markets did not work because economic policies had favoured subsidies, protectionism and a whole gamut of interventions. While such interventions favoured a few, it left local production systems non-competitive and led to further downstream distortions in the form of land concentration in large, inefficient and protected agricultural complexes. It also generated increased poverty and food insecurity.

Research on poverty under the influence of the new institutional economics began to uncover the ways in which these poorly functioning factor markets produced poverty.15 This recent research trend has realised that deep rooted poverty is the result of unequal access to human, capital and physical resources, and excessive transaction costs. Thus it becomes virtually impossible for them to escape from poverty unless macro economic policy changes and markets in land, capital, labour, inputs were opened to all rural producers.

Property rights:16 A fundamental cornerstone to achieving the social and economic goals of the new institutional economics is the establishment of secure property rights.17 One of the major champions of the primary role to be played by property, Hernando de Soto, maintains that in the next 25 years, the countries that achieve economic success will be those who have developed strong property institutions.18 This has led to an increasing interest by Member Nations and development agencies in those institutions that strengthen and support property relations in land: the cadastre, the land registry as well as leasing and other land use contracts.19

Also, directly related to ehancing property rights of small holders, there is a growing consensus on the inverse relationship between farm size and productivity. This inverse relationship refers to the repeated observation that, in general, sustainable food production is greater on family-run, small farms than on larger, industrial and plantation farms.20 This is a crucial finding that ties land reform directly to World Food Summit follow-up and the whole campaign of Food for All. We will return to this topic in the third section.

Development, under this scenario, requires a coherent set of interventions that improve production and productivity through meeting related goals of open markets and property rights. The transformation taking place in other sectors of the economy are also taking place in agriculture. Not only the poor, but also the middle-sized and progressive farmers realise the need for a reform of land tenure arrangements where these allow large tracts of land to remain idle, poorly used or held by speculators. Thus, the design of country specific institutional reform programmes began to look more and more like the land reform projects being initiated by the coalitions of the landless, rural poor and civil society.21

This convergence of two largely independently generated trends has led to the emergence of a new paradigm in the land reform arena. The idea of a different kind ("third generation")22 of land reform is now commonly accepted, referring to cases which occur in the context of a comprehensive supporting institutional framework which is discussed in Section II. This new framework enshrines the rights and security of the individual. The emerging consensus on a new approach to land reform does not concern itself solely with landless groups, but also seeks to utilise reforms as a means to strengthen the economic and productive potential of existing producers who are constrained by pre-existing land tenure arrangements and institutional dysfunction. Furthermore, the current thinking on land reform is also stimulated by the desire to provide institutional means for resolving the numerous conflicts and growing number of civil wars stimulated by the ""land issue". Finally, there is growing awareness that land tenure reform is necessary for achieving ecological goals of sustainability. There is no hope of halting desertification or deforestation as long as access to land is unequal. Land tenure reform will have to be a component in achieving sustainability.

Almost all the major donors are now supporting land reform programmes in conceptual terms that are compatible with the Washington Consensus on the role of the market, property rights and institutional reform.23

II. Types of land reform

"Land reform" and "Agrarian reform" are used to refer to a number of rather distinct processes/programmes.24 In the list below we divide the broad spectrum into types. These processes are not at all mutually exclusive. Many member states have two or more of these types of land reform as part of their rural development "package" of programmes.25

Imposed redistributive reforms:

No discussion of land reform would be complete without a coverage of imposed redistribution of land. This is the kind of land reform that most people would first think of when hearing the term. In a redistributive land reform, the land is taken from large holders and given to landless and poor farmers. From an institutional side this normally includes nationalisation; redistribution policies involving expropriation of land on grounds of excessive size, underutilisation, ownership by absentee landlords and/or foreigners.26 This type of land reform often (but not always, e.g. Chile) grows out of a post-crisis situation such as a war or civil war. The police power of the state is used to redefine the property rights of land holders. Thus, such a land reform requires an exclusive control on political power. It can succeed only where the power of the existing rural, land-based elite is either transferred or eliminated. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that such land reforms have been often directed more by ideological fervour than sound technical planning. A brief digression to examine in a few sentences the different Regional experiences with imposed land reform will serve as to put current efforts into perspective and is provided in Box 2.

Box 2 Regional examples of redistributive land reform

Asia: Japan probably represents the archetypical representation of a successful land reform. Implementation was enforced by the United States occupation forces following WWII as a means of breaking the power of the large land owners who had been the pillars of the militaristic developments in Japan in the pre-war period. Land holding ceilings were established at one hectare. The landlords were compensated in a combination of cash and development bonds. The rural producer populations largely stayed on their previous holding, but where now given full ownership rights and a highly subsidised mortgage. Key factors that are often overlooked in the literature, but are critical to understanding the success or failure of other land reforms were the existing well developed extension service, land records and efficient bureaucracy.

The Republic of Korea represents another of the post-WWII success stories in land reform. DPR Korea had imposed a thorough land reform in 1944. This and other factors led to growing tension for similar opening up of access to land in the South. Thus, the Republic of Korea's sweeping land reform was the result of the crisis created by the alleged communist aggression from the north. A critical factor in its success has been the equally thorough development and support to local village government to assume the land administration functions. Thus the Republic of Korea has been able to maintain a local dynamic for continuous agricultural development that is lacking in the North and in most redistributive land reforms.

On the island of Taiwan the successful land reform was imposed by the Nationalist Government which had just been exiled from the mainland. The new government therefore had no obligations toward the local indigenous landowners. Also important were accurate land tenure data and a non-indigenous bureaucracy. Land tenure ceiling of one hectare was imposed and the former land owners were paid in industrial bonds. Thus their future lay in the urban-industrial zone. (Yang, M. 1970, Socio-Economic Results of Land Reform in Taiwan. U. Hawaii Press.)

If Japan, Korea and Taiwan (Province of China) served as models for a role to be played for land reform in the development of industrial democracies, China provided an equally graphic model for socialist countries. In 1949 all the agricultural land was equally distributed. The immediate results were impressive. This was the largest national land reform in history. Food production went up by 15 kg per person (total population) each year until the collectivisation that started in 1956. This proved to be a policy disaster and the destruction of the family farm system created by the world's largest land reform resulted in one of the world's greatest famines (1959-1962). (Prosterman, R, and Tim Hanstad and Li Ping. 1996. Can China Feed Itself? Scientific American. November, 90-96)

Latin America has been a region that has had its fair share of land reform programmes. Starting with the Mexican revolution of 1910 there had been a series of attempts to impose a land reform in the region (Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru). While there has been much justified criticism of these reforms, they did benefit many thousands of poor rural families and did receive wide support in the society at large. They did not, however, result in the kind of transformation envisaged in the original design. In general, governments were either unable, or unwilling to implement the kind of full land reform of their Asian colleagues. Cuba is the sole exception. The programmes were universally under-funded so that needed services, inputs, and institutional development could not take place, or took place too late. Finally, they were bureaucratically top heavy and did not build on (or create) a self sustaining farming system. (See William Thiesenhusen, 1995, Broken Promises: Agrarian Reform and the Latin American Campesino. Westview Press.)

The Near East/North African Region also saw the attempts at major land reforms. Egypt, North Africa,  Iraq and Iran all undertook major land reform projects in the period from 1950 to the mid 1970s. Again, though the literature emphasises the failures, there is no denying that again, as in Latin America, the benefits reached many thousands of impoverished rural families. Egypt was by far the most thorough going and benefited the most people. (M. Riad El Ghonemy, 1993, Land, Food and Rural Development in North Africa. London. IT and Westview Press. Also his 1998, Affluence and Poverty in the Near East. Rutledge.)

Finally, one should mention all of the land and agrarian reforms inspired by the Soviet model of command economies: the entire agrarian reform policy of China, the former Soviet Union and other command economies (Angola, Cuba, Eastern and Central Europe, Ethiopia and Mozambique) was predicated on a concept of social, as opposed to individual, property rights in rural resources. We have to remember that it was the promise of an agrarian reform that led to much grassroots support for these governments in the initial period. Today the emphasis in all these countries is to reverse this process. This is a complex and slow process which will be discuss below.

It is interesting to note that this category represents both the most successful and the most unsuccessful examples of land and agrarian reform. The failures to emulate elsewhere the successes in Asia of Japan, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan (Province of China) probably led more than anything else to the general disenchantment with land reform among the donor community. Several of the major multilateral donors such as the World Bank and the European Union have adopted governing rules that require them to refrain from lending for land purchases.27

Land tenure reform:

This type of reform is used in all other categories, but is often used as the main instrument of achieving both more efficient and equitable distribution of land and landed resources (water, etc.). The focus is on techniques and institution rebuilding that make land tenure institutions work in a more efficient, effective and fair way. Thus, the focus is on the social, political, and economic support needed for institutionalised transactions in rights in property. The core of this approach are good legal support and effective land information systems (LIS). Over and over again it has been observed that where the cadastre and land registry are poorly maintained or non-existent, there are high costs for proper survey, valuation and creation of new land records. The transaction costs for property exchange often exceed the economic value of the property involved. Experience has shown that land owners have many tools available to frustrate the process of creating fair and open economic transactions.

Land tenure reform is usually based on the creation of unambiguous property rights in land through legal reform and land registration. First, the newly established private rights must be clear. Second, "private" refers largely to control (i.e., legal capacity): private tenure imbues the owner with control over the acquisition, use, enjoyment and disposal of the property. These rights are conditioned by the context-specific statutes and laws which limit the absolute freedom of an individual through restrictions on land use, and so forth. The new institutionalist approach has also brought back an important observation.28 Property is not the same thing as ownership. Property rights (entitlements) establish a relationship between the holder and the resources on the one hand and the legitimising norms and institutions on the other. Property establishes relations and makes possible new economic activity through adaptive and culturally recognised procedures. Confirmation of title in order to verify and secure land titles for those who already have a demonstrable claim to the land and replace doubt and contention by positiveness and certainty and so inspire confidence and encourage development.

Box 3 Land leases and land reform

Regularisation of land leases is also a key part of the legislation in countries which have undertaken programmes of land reform. In some countries with a history of subdivision of farm plots into small, scattered holdings, leases provide an important method of combining parcels into larger, modern farms (southern Poland and southern Italy). Similarly, in some countries that have broken up large holdings - latifundia or collective farms - and have redistributed land to farm families, leasing is used to re-combine these small holdings into efficiently sized production units (Hungary, northern Italy). Finally, in countries that have decided to retain large territories of land in state ownership, leases provide the means by which citizens and farm enterprises compete for access to the land - allowing the marketplace to encourage use of the land by the most efficient users (China, dry grazing areas in the United States, some Oblasts of the Russian Federation). (Source: Valletta, W. and S. H. Keith. 1998. Considerations for Agricultural Land Leasehold. Rome, FAO.)

Thus many bilateral donors such as AUSAID, DANAID, DFID and USAID, and others have concentrated on assisting countries to build modern land tenure legislation, cadastres, and land registries. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that an active land registry is not enough. Effective farming has need of a series of temporal uses of land in order to react quickly to changing world market demands for specific agricultural produce. This means land leasing and other arrangements are very important strategy tools for modern agriculturists. In many societies it is necessary to adjust or correct the reciprocal rights between proprietors and users in response to changing economic needs (e.g., the establishment of statutory committees or land boards to organise the use of common resources and other interests; tenancy reform to adjust the terms of contract between landlord and tenant).29

Box 4 Land tenure reform in Thailand and Mexico

Mexico and Thailand represent two of the world's most ambitious attempts to stimulate rural development through land tenure reform. In 1992 Mexico initiated a process to remove the restrictions on land market transactions on the social property of the Ejido communities that had been created out of the redistributive land reform of 1910-1936. The process has involved a massive land demarcation and cadastre programmes. Since this extensive experiment is too recent to make any final judgement at this time, an examination of the case in Thailand may be illustrative. (Alain de Janvry, E. Sadouet and G Gordillo, 1997, Mexico's Second Agrarian Reform. Berkeley, Center for US-Mexico Relations.)

Thailand is in its thirteenth year of a 20-year programme to provide modern cadastre, land registration and land conveyancing and credit institutions to all its rural populations. It is estimated that over 20 million properties so far have been registered. A recently completed monitoring and evaluation project by Thai research centres has revealed that rural incomes, major investments (e.g., tractors), land transactions, land improvement, use of formal credit, etc., is much higher among farmers with titled land than for those yet to be included in the programme. The data also indicate that the land tenure regularisation has stimulated the emergence of strong private credit and supply/marketing participation. Non-registered rural populations also benefit.

Negotiated land tenure reforms:

This refers to a process where the emphasis is on the negotiated transfer of land from large owners. The clearest use of this are the very different processes that are taking place today in Colombia, Brazil and South Africa. In all cases it is the alliance between landless and near landless farming families and civil society who are directing government where when and how to focus their negotiations on their behalf. That is, the land seekers negotiate what they need, as opposed to a more traditional approach to land reform where the recipients get what is given to them.

Box 5 Assisting the market to give the poor access to land in Colombia

In 1994 the new land reform law was promulgated in Colombia. The law is aimed at the promotion of a negotiated land reform, and involves the need to stimulate the participation of previous agrarian reform targeted beneficiaries in land purchase negotiations. It stipulates a 70 percent direct subsidy on the total value of the land to facilitate land acquisitions. Technical support and government assistance are foreseen as the cornerstones of the reform proposed by the law. Assistance is provided for the beneficiaries in negotiating land purchases, for the financial and economic appraisal of the property to be bought, and for the further cultivation of the land in a productive and efficient manner. The important innovation is that the identified beneficiary groups negotiate the land price with willing sellers.(J. Heath and K. Deininger, 1997, Implementing "negotiated" land reform: The case of Colombia. LAC Cross-Fertilization Seminar. 6/3/1997.)


Box 6 The Philippines shows that a strong civil society and government can work together

The Philippines has been in a continuous process of land reform since 1964. This has been a long-term process due to the fact that it was conceived originally as a redistributive reform. The lesson to be learned from the Philippine experience is the important role civil society can play. It has been civil society through a coalition of farmers' groups and NGOs that has kept the pressure on for land reform that is a rural development process. Since their strong and insistent intervention has been accepted as an important assistance by government, the emphasis has been on the development of sufficient support services.

In close working arrangements with civil society and government, FAO/Italy/Netherlands-supported projects [TSARRD] have provided a working model for community development and negotiation that is providing the framework for all other donors. The key is to develop beneficiary community capacity to use the larger civil society coalitions to "negotiate" for their needs - farm roads, irrigation and so forth, on a community-specific needs assessment.

Market-led reform:

This is a type of land reform that combines very naturally with the realisation that when they work property, markets are the best arbiter of supply and demand of goods and services. The question is quite naturally raised: why could we not get land markets to function in a way that those who really want to farm and are the best farmers would get land, and inefficient land holders and absentee land owners would be driven out by market forces? This usually involves direct government intervention in the market by making assets available to those too disadvantaged to enter into normal land market transactions. This includes the distribution of public lands; state expenditure on land reclamation and subsequent allotment as private property; mortgage interest tax relief; support to institutions to administer the necessary land acquisition and distribution mechanisms and to advice services to prospective land owners.30

A land market always requires some state intervention. A land market by itself will not do much to transfer land to the poor who want to be independent, land owning producers. This is because where the former owner has to be compensated at market or near market value by the purchaser, a poor farmer cannot repay out of farm profits alone. Land always contains a premium value over and above the value of its agricultural productivity due to its collateral value in a market economy and preferential access to credit. It has been the unfortunate observation that where the market is not sufficiently monitored after distribution, land distribution is quickly followed by land return to the former owners.

It goes without saying that a market-led land reform requires an active land market. That is, there have to exist willing sellers and buyers (in established market economies, we anticipate that around 5 percent of the national privately owned land will change hands annually through the market).

Box 7 Land markets

FAO has been working with researchers from numerous member states on the underlying nature of land markets. This work has also been augmented by a strong cooperation between IFAD, the World Bank and FAO to work together developing a better understanding why land markets so often do not function as an access route for the rural poor. First, a land market differs significantly from a commodities market. Since land is both finite and fixed, a market in real holdings has more similarity to an art market. You cannot always buy the land you want, but rather are constrained by what is offered on the market. Second, land always carries an additional value over and above its productive utility. This added value appears in the added social status that comes with being a land owner. It also includes the added access to credit and services. Thus, the sale price of land always includes some recognition of this added value to land ownership. Therefore, the poor cannot possibly pay back a mortgaged land purchase from the productivity of the land by itself. They will need support or mortgage relief at least up to the amount necessary to cover this additional value.

This means that a land market has to have a strong service component available to the poor, if it is to serve as a land reform tool. We have already mentioned that some sort of mortgage relief service will be needed. But a modern land market requires a whole set of institutional services to function at all. First there has to be some way of removing any ambiguity over what is being sold and who has rights to do so. This is why modern economies invest so heavily in land registries and cadastres. Second, land sale transactions transfer the ownership rights. Thus there has to be a transparent method of doing so, that firmly establishes the legal capacity of the new owner to invest in and enjoy the acquired property. This is why all modern economies have developed conveyancing services and institutions. Examples of these would be valuation, real estate brokering, property rights inscription, and so forth. Finally, in no modern economy does a land purchaser have full and undisturbed rights in landed property. The society at large, through state institutions, always reserves the right to administer its territory and to intervene in land use. Common examples would include enforcement of environmental codes, land taxation, adjudication of land conflicts, etc.

For all the above reasons, the use of a land market as a land reform tool will require by necessity extensive institutional and service development.

While negotiated and market-led land reform programmes are the "flavour of the month" in the donor community, there is a need to keep the results in perspective. For example, if we take the figures for 1998 in the case of Brazil, the estimates of INCRA (National Land Settlement and Reform Agency) is that 100 000 families will be settled through the "traditional" compulsory purchase processes and that they will exceed the target of 120 000 families next year. For the same period the negotiated and market-led programmes are targeting a total of 15 000 families (i.e., 7.5 percent of the 1998 total). Thus, as was emphasised in the beginning of this section, Member Nations are turning to a number of approaches that are used in conjunction with each other. The same magnitude of difference between the poor getting access through the market and compulsory purchase will be found in the Philippines and in the emerging land reforms of southern Africa. This does not mean that these new approaches are not successful, rather than they are additional tools available to a nation for addressing its needs for a reform of land tenure. The lessons learned will be applicable to the post land reform agrarian situation. The success of any modern land reform will be measured by the fact that small rural producers will be able to fully compete in national land tenure institutions like the market, the land registry, the mortgage system and so forth as full political and economic participants.

Land reform through restitution:

In this case the focus in on the restoration of rights now felt to have been unjustly taken. This process is technically a legal and judicial process that returns rights to a pre-determined date. In most of Eastern and Central Europe this is 1948, in South Africa it is 1913.

Box 8 Land restitution in Eastern and Central Europe and South Africa

While land restitution is a form of land reform to address past injustices, in both Eastern and Central Europe and in South Africa it is running into a number of practical problems. The principal one is that the entire physical infrastructure has changed dramatically since the rights to individual parcels were unjustly acquired. Citizens, quite understandably, insist on the return of their original property, but this nowadays is usually at odds with access, service provisions or even sound sustainable land use.

Where original properties have been restituted, the general experience has been one of disappointment and limited economic utility. This will be expected to change through innovations in the land tenure reform that will allow equitable property rationalisation by the restituted owners. (J. Riddell, 1995, Farmland Conveyancing in Selected FAO Member States in Transition. In G. Wunderlich (ed.) Agricultural Landownership in Transitional Economies. New York. University Press of America. Also, Essy Letsaolo, 1996, Land Reform in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Gödöllö Seminar. FAO, Rome.)

III. The Gap between theory and practice: land reform and the goals of the World Food Summit

For some time there has been a growing body of scientific investigation that has noted the inverse relationship between farm size and production of food crops. The focus on size in terms of hectarage is misleading. What is important is the management of the farm. The data indicate clearly that all other things being equal the family farm is the most efficient and sustainable. This does not emerge through romantic wishful thinking but rather through the fact that, on average, a farm family achieves a much higher density of management than do any other types of farm enterprise arrangement. This greater density of management exists because there is motivated family labour available on a continuous basis.31

Does this mean that we will never find any "economies of scale" in agriculture. Not necessarily, but they will not be where much policy support in the past has been looking. That is, in industrial farming and in production co-operatives. These latter have required protection, subsidies and non-open markets to survive. We do find some economies of scale, however, in family farms. These scale economies increase up to the point where the family is no longer able to apply a "dense" enough management. Just where this point is depends on the situational mix of land quality, capital and labour availability and cost, and the nature and supply of upstream and down stream input and output markets.32 Indeed, many multinational agricultural enterprises are trying to get out of the direct farming business through contract farming, etc., to also capture some of the benefits of labour density in family farming. The relationship can be positive when this results in more efficient and sustainable use of technology than individual small holders could afford on their own.

In looking at the most productive agricultural systems in the world there is considerable variation in highly productive family farms. In Japan the average farm size is less than 1 hectare while in the United States the average family farm is 169 ha. Historical circumstances are important. The key variables are the relative costs of land, labour and capital. In the United States and Canada agricultural land has been relatively cheap. In addition, early economic policy began the tradition of providing easy access to inexpensive capital and credit. What has always been expensive and in short supply in these two countries is labour. Consequently, agricultural development has emphasised technological labour substitution. Still, putting into perspective the newspaper accounts of the corporate, industrial farm replacing the family in agriculture, over 80 percent of the farms are still family owned and operated. Statistics from the United States, for example, show that the vast majority of the corporate farms in that country are still run by families who have incorporated for legal reasons. In Europe small family farms have received political and economic support to a degree that is under debate at the time of writing. However, part of the success of these small farms is also related to the economies of scale achieved by these families forming large upstream and downstream service, etc., co-operatives, agricultural chambers and related civil society organisations.

Land tenure institutions and support for a sustainable farm structure have a direct bearing on achieving sustainable goals of Food for All. In Member Nations where land holdings are highly skewed and detrimental to family farming, and where much land is idle or held for speculation, some form of land and/or land tenure reform is necessary to achieve the goals affirmed at the WFS. In this sense Food For All has much to say about the establishment of property rights for those who work the land and produce society's essential agricultural produce: full economic participation/citizenship in an open market economy and especially to the land reforms necessary to achieve the highest efficiency in sustainable use of the world's finite rural resources.

Thus, there is an emerging synergy between food security goals, the evolving structural adjustment programmes for economic liberalisation, the development of open markets and the growing realisation of the fundamental importance of political liberalisation, decentralisation and good governance.

IV. Current FAO initiatives

FAO continues to advise its Member Nations in reforming poorly functioning land tenure systems and has included it in its Strategic Framework. To accomplish this in a cost-effective manner, FAO has organised a series of partnerships and alliances between technical divisions within the organisation and with other agencies and research institutions.

Future trends and perspectives : land and agrarian reform in FAO's strategic vision and technical co-operation services include the new coalitions and alliances as well as negotiated processes that make up the current reality in today's rural setting. A good example is the land market analysis that has been organised by FAO over a six-year period. This has led to the creation of NELAREN [Network on Negotiated Land Reform] which involves FAO, IFAD and the World Bank and four Member Nations (Brazil, Columbia, the Philippines and South Africa) in a co-ordinated effort to identify the "best practices" for getting sustainable family farming established among the rural poor. Each of these Member Nations has active land reform programmes and each of them is experimenting with a diverse variety of policy, institution building and technical innovations. These innovations include macroeconomic and fiscal reforms that affect land prices, new forms of funding land purchases - including those coming from civil society. What is the most promising out of the experiment is that member countries are willing to exchange this information to avoid mistakes and shorten the learning curve as much as possible.33

Another area where several technical divisions are working together is in land tenure regularisation and legal reforms. It is practically impossible to have an effective land market (either sale or lease) without good land records and the necessary legislation and legal institutions to define the nature of what has been transacted. The Law in Development Service and the Land Tenure Service have had a longstanding historical relationship to work together in assisting Member Nations develop the kinds of land records systems needed for support to agricultural development and land tenure reform. In addition, it should be mentioned that in a world where water resources are becoming more and more utilised, many of the techniques developed for land registration and markets can be applied to water. Many Member Nations are discovering that where there is property registration of water rights, a market soon develops because it is more beneficial to a family to sell excess water than to waste it in poor management. This will be a natural area of development between technical divisions.

The world's rural populations will continue to force land reform on the development agenda because it is necessary if they are to meet their food and development needs. Land reform will continue in Latin America and Asia, but the region with the greatest dynamic in land reform in the near future will be southern Africa and the former centrally planned economies. Priority trends and problems which have to be addressed include the types of conceptual framework and tools and alliances/partnerships that will enable FAO to assist Member Nations in such programmes. Unfortunately, scholars and agencies have elaborated theories which, in many cases, are quite far from reality. Identification of the tools needed for sustainable reform of the rural society to better serve as a foundation for analysis and the development of a workable policy framework and theory will require the same coalitions identified at the beginning of this paper: farmers, civil society, technical agencies and government. To play our role, sustainable land reform is a process that involves every technical service in the Organization. If FAO were to decide to produce a "position paper" on land reform, the emphasis should be on how FAO's technical expertise can provide solutions beyond policy discussion.


1 A paper prepared by J. Riddell and the staff of the Land Tenure Service in the Rural Development Division. The staff wishes to acknowledge the help received within the Division, our working partners in the cross-Divisional LRTF and from numerous colleagues in FAO and other co-operating agencies and institutions on earlier drafts.

2 See Herrera, Adriana; Jim Riddell and Paolo Toselli, "Recent FAO experiences in land reform and land tenure". In Land Reform, Land Settlement and Co-operatives. 1997/1. Rome, FAO.

3 Traditionally - and as used by the FAO Land Tenure Service - the concept of land tenure concerns much more than land, it also includes, water, minerals, structures, trees, and other improvements.

4 See, for example, Cherryl Walker, 1998, Land Reform and Gender in Post-Apartheid South Africa. UNRISD News No. 18: 4-6. Also WFS documents on gender issues.

5 This has been observed by several leading thinkers on land reform. Thiesenhusen W. (ed), 1989, Searching for Agrarian Reform in Latin America. Umvin Hyman. Also his 1995 Broken Promises: Agrarian Reform and the Latin American Campesino. Westview Press. Cristobal Kay (1998) states that "Support [for land reform] or the lack of it, from urban based political parties and urban social groups was often critical in determining the outcome of the reform process". Latin American Agrarian Reform: Lights and Shadows. Land Reform, Land Settlement and Co-operatives Bulletin 1998:II (forthcoming).

6 See Rory Miller's stimulating introduction to a proposed 2 day meeting to be held in May 1999, "Land In Latin America: New Context, new Claims, New Concepts". {rory@liverpool.ac.uk}. Also, much of the recent policy has missed the point that it is often indigenous communities that are at the forefront to civil action for land reform. For instance, in Canada the Inuit, the Algonquin and the Lubicon people are protesting for a surface area which is more than three times that of Nicaragua. The latter we associate with land reform, the former has yet to enter into our land reform theory. Indeed, almost all indigenous populations are calling for some kind of land tenure reform to recognise, protect and often restitute land and resources over which they claim traditional ownership.

7 Bebbington, A., Kopp, A and Rubinoff, D. 1997. From Chaos to Strength? Social capital, rural people's organizations and sustainable rural development. Paper prepared for FAO as background for a workshop on pluralism, forestry and development, November 1998. Rome, FAO. Also, R. Trenchard 1998, Emerging Trends in Land Reform in Latin America: Towards a new Perspective. Latin American Studies Centre. Cambridge University.

8 IRED Nord, 1997. People's Empowerment: Grassroots Experiences in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Rome. IRED is an umbrella association of some 300 development NGOs, voluntary association and people's organisations.

9 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, 1997. Towards a Better Distribution of Land: The Challenge of Agrarian Reform. Liberia Editrice Vaticana. Citta del Vaticano.

10 Presentation of the Philippine Agrarian Reform Programme: 1988-1998 at IFAD by Dr. Ernesto D. Garilao, Secretary, Department of Agrarian Reform. 30 March 1998.

11 For example see: Lehman, David. 1978. The death of land reform: a polemic. World Development. 6:3. And de Janvry, A and E. Sadoulet. 1989. A study in resistance to institutional change: the lost game for Latin American land reform. World Development. 17:1397-1407.

12 Peter Dorner, 1991, Latin American Land Reforms in Theory and Practice. U. Wisconsin Press. Bulmer-Thomas, V. 1996. The New Economic Model in Latin America and its Impact on Income Distribution and Poverty. London: Macmillan Press Ltd.: 10.

13 Williamson, J. 1997. "The Washington Consensus Revisited". in Emmerij, L. (ed.). Economic and Social Development into the XXI Century. Washington DC: Inter-American Development Bank: 48-61. See also, Stewart, F. 1997. "John Williamson and the Washington Consensus Revisited". in Emmerij, L. (ed.) Economic and Social Development into the XXI Century. Washington DC: Inter-American Development Bank: 62-69. See also, Joseph Stiglitz's recent paper (1998) delivered to the WIDER meeting held in Santiago, Chile entitled "More Instruments and Broader Goals: Moving toward the post-Washington Consensus".

14 Binswanger, Hans; Klaus Deininger and Gershon Feder 1995, "Power, Distortions, Revolt and Reform in Agricultural Land Relations" in J. Behrman and T.N. Srinivasan (eds.) Handbook of Development Economics, Volume III. Amsterdam. Elsevier.

15 See Jazairy, I.; M. Alamgir and T. Panuccio. 1992. L' etat de la pauverete rural dans le monde. New York. New York University Press, for a summary.

16 There are different types of private property: individual, co-operative, corporate, condominium (the latter being the modern approximate equivalent of many of the common property resources management systems found among the indigenous populations of FAO Member Nations). Thus, although private property is a diverse condition, reflecting contingent laws, statutes and prescriptions, certain conditions are common to all private tenure arrangements.

17 Williamson, 1997. op. cit. Also, the reader is referred to: Alston, L., Eggertsson, T. and North, D. 1996. Introduction in Alston, L., Eggertsson, T. and North, D. (Eds.) 1996. Empirical Studies in Institutional Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1-5.

18 de Soto , H. 1994. The Missing Ingredient, What Poor Countries will need to make their rules work. The Economist, 328: 8 - 10. And 1989. The other path: the invisible revolution in the Third World. New York: Harper Row.

19 It is interesting to note that the important role international and national women's organisations have had in promoting women's rights in land has served as a major stimulus to re-think many of our assumptions about land tenure rights and institutions.

20 Berry, R.A. and W. R. Cline 1979; Agrarian Structures and Productivity in Developing Countries. Geneva. ILO. Michael Carter 1984. "Identification of the Inverse Relationship Between Farm Size and Productivity: An Empirical Analysis of Peasant Agricultural Production". Oxford Economic Papers, 36: 131 - 145.

21 Also it is just as necessary for farmers in the modernised sector as well as other actors.

22 See Gustavo Gordillo, 1996, On food security and land tenure. Forum Valutazione. Rome. Also by the same author, 1998, Between Political Control and Efficiency Gains. Forthcoming in ECLAC Review.

23 European Union, World Bank and the regional development banks are supporting and lending for support services to land reform, Improved land administration, land titling and strengthening land market performance. Major bilateral programmes have almost universally joined in support of land reform programmes. Australia, Belgium (ARSP), DFID (UK), Italy, Japan, Netherlands, SIDA (Swedish Aid), USAID. It should be noted that both multilateral and bilateral aid is predominately for support to institution and market reform, land and cadastre registration and support services to beneficiaries. Very little money is channelled directly for land purchase.

24 As Solon Baraclough has remarked (1991) almost any type of socially conscious programme that involves the landless or rural poor has been called a land or agrarian reform by someone. An end to hunger: the social origins of food strategies. 1991, Zed Books. UNRISD. Geneva

25 Because land reforms involve property rights in finite (and often decreasing) land and landed resources, they are always a product of the political, economic, cultural, social and technical history of the society in which they take place. This is to emphasise that a land or agrarian reform programme is not a permanent activity. It is an exceptional intervention to solve specific agrarian questions and therefore is part of a more general rural development process.

26 By contrast, gradual redistribution policies operate through death duties and land taxes.

27 The World Bank rationale for not for land purchases was that it would not increase the country's assets. Most major donors are currently, however, participating in support for other activities associated with land reform projects.

28 Bromley D. W., 1989, Economic interests and institutions: the conceptual foundations of public policy. Oxford, Basil Blackwell. The current situation in much of the former Soviet Union is a good example of this, especially in the area of forestry. It has been relatively easy to create property rights in law, but extremely difficult to engender ownership of landed resources. See also, G. Wunderlich (ed). 1995 Agricultural Landownership in Transitional Economies. U. Press of America. Another interesting paper is Johan Swinnen's Transition from Collective Farms to Individual Tenures in Central and Eastern Europe, given at the WIDER Conference in Santiago, Chile 1998.

29 Adams, Martin. 1997. The importance of land tenure to poverty eradication and sustainable development in Africa. Oxford Policy Management July. Oxford. This is one of the best summaries available on the variety of initiatives taking place in Africa. See also, as part of the same series: Quan, Julian, 1997, Final Draft Report 15 August 1997. Natural Resources Institute, Greenwich University.

30 See, Johann von Zyle, Johann Kirsten and hans Binswanger (eds). 1996. Agricultural Land Reform in South Africa: Policies, Markets and Mechanisms, OUP for an excellent multi-faceted analysis.

31 See, for instance, A. Sen's early presentation of this idea. 1964. Size of Holding and Productivity. Economic Weekly (Annual Number). This is also presented in his 1981 Poverty and Famines, Oxford University Press.

See also later supporting work in Feder, G. 1985 The relation between Farm Size and Farm Productivity. J. of Dev. Econ. 18: 297 - 313; Binswanger, Hans P., Klaus Deininger and G. Feder, 1993, Power, Distortion, Revolt and Reform in Agricultural Land Relations. Op.cit.

32 Cornia, G.A. 1985. Farm size, land yields and the agricultural productivity function: an analysis of fifteen developing countries. World Development 13: 513 - 534. Melmed-Sanjak, J. and M. R. Carter, 1991. The economic viability and stability of capitalized family farming: an analysis of agricultural decollectivization in Peru. J. of Dev. Studies: 190 - 210.

33 Such efforts dovetail naturally with related land resource analysis carried out by FAO in co-operation with its diverse academic and agency partners. This would include work on land lease and other temporal and partial interests in land and other rural resources. That is, by only looking at sale markets policy and decision makers often overlook available land distribution made possible by shorter term land transactions. A well functioning lease market can accomplish many of the aims of a redistributive land reform without the social disruption or the cost.