The Issue of Agrarian Reform at the Current
Stage of Turkey's Socio-Economic Development
Dr. Frithjof Kuhnen
Agrarian reforms - measures to overcome obstacles hindering
economic and social development that are the result of shortcomings
in the agrarian structure - have been occurring for more than
a thousand years. They concern changes in land tenure (ownership,
tenancy and labour organization) and, in modern times especially,
changes in land use (management, supporting institutions).
While the goals of these reforms were mostly a mix of political,
social and economic objectives, the emphasis changed with
the stages of development:
- In early times, ownership reform was used to change the
power structure, reduce exploitation and dependence, and
create greater equality.
- Later on, early industrialization, urbanization and population
increase made it necessary to tie more people to the land
and put an end to agricultural stagnation by offering the
incentive of becoming an owner-cultivator.
- Progressive industrialization requires the release of
manpower out of agriculture and increasing capital intensity
as well as the use of more purchased inputs. This causes
an increasing interweaving of agriculture with other sectors
and thus a greater risk which has to be compensated by more
sophisticated supporting institutions.
- Mature societies have a small agricultural sector. Small
farms become less attractive because an income comparable
to that earned in the other sectors is the goal. Agriculture
becomes dependent on the broader section of the society
and accepts new roles. Agrarian reforms have to further
the adjustment of agriculture to changing circumstances.
If these changing agrarian reform objectives are applied
to Turkey, the great variation between regions in the country
and between the strata of the rural society cause the agrarian
reform requirements of all the development stages listed above
to exist side by side. The regional differences are old and
have been much discussed. East Anatolia, West Anatolia and
Marmara/Agais are far apart in their socio-economic development,
and the differences are ever increasing.
Socio-economic Differentiation of Turkish Agriculture
Much less discussed is the socio-economic differentiation
within agriculture. Today - with differences in number and
percentage between regions - it is reasonable to differentiate
between the following types of rural households:
1. Households with enough land to support the owner-family
- Landlords - especially those concentrated in southeast
Turkey - often manage their land with share tenants and
landless labourers, often rather extensively. Land is more
a source of power than a basis for production. Social relations
are feudalistic, sometimes overlapping with the ethnological
- Progressive farmers are usually younger farmers who own
or rent land and apply modern capitalistic methods of management,
thus using the potential of modern technology.
- Economic holdings are family farms with sufficient land
to allow a decent living and the application of modern technology.
Many of them discovered niches for specialization and achieve
a good income.
2. Households without sufficient land to support the
- Households with multiple employment have at least one
family member earning a non-farm income. This member's job
may be permanent or seasonal, local, in distant places or
even abroad. Farm work is done by the other family members.
- Households with household production have not been successful
in finding a non-farm job or no suitable family member is
available. They try to improve their living by producing
within the household (weaving, charcoal) or by avoiding
expenses through assuming maintenance and repair work.
- Households of aged people consist only of old couples
whose children have migrated. In the absence of other means
of subsistence, they have to continue farming, often rather
extensively as their strength diminishes and with much disinvestment.
- Marginal existences are those of the people who have
not been able to find additional income because of personal
or locational circumstances. The land is cultivated without
investment, and yields are low. Many of these people live
in great poverty.
A Variety of Different Policy Measures is Needed
These different types of households have a different resource
endowment, different goals regarding the cultivation of their
land and a different interest in agriculture. Accordingly,
different policies are suitable to promote their situation.
Therefore, an agrarian reform has a different meaning to them:
- In the case of landlords, a certain redistribution of
landownership would increase equity and improve the tenants'
living especially if supporting measures to improve land
management are applied. However, not all the land in the
relevant areas is suitable for small-scale farming units
because of the limited productivity. It is no use to create
small farms which will soon be given up because they do
not yield a sufficient income.
- For progressive farmers and economic holdings, land ownership
reform is of limited interest, while improvements in land
management would help them much. A mix of price and innovation
policy together with the promotion of supporting institutions
and field consolidation satisfies their needs. Improvement
of marketing plays an important role.
- For all those households without sufficient land, the
situation is quite different. Today, their goal is not so
much equal access to land - which could be arranged by land
reform - as access to equal income opportunities, in or
outside agriculture. Undoubtedly, some young men are interested
in agriculture and could be helped in obtaining an economic
holding if farms were enlarged in the course of land redistribution.
In view of the income desired, the land given to them should
be of a sufficient amount. For more and more people, farming
is of limited interest, especially as they experience that
often only larger farms guarantee an income comparable to
that earned in other sectors.
- Most of the households with multiple employment will
step out of farming with the change of generations or continue
managing only a small part-time farm. Agrarian reforms and
measures of agricultural policy hardly meet their interest,
while policies for training in non-agricultural jobs, employment
creation and regional development are measures to their
benefit. The same applies to households with household production
and marginal existences whose land and other assets are
too small to allow modern farming. Their future lies outside
agriculture. Policies safeguarding a smooth transfer of
land to those households which are still interested in farming
- Households with aged people cannot be furthered either
by agrarian reform or agricultural policy measures because
those people are not even interested. Social security would
be of great help during their old age.
The overall goal for agricultural policy at the current stage
of Turkey's development is to achieve income parity for agriculture
as compared with other sectors. This cannot be achieved without
reducing the number of farms and increasing the farm size
to a level that allows the application of modern technology.
Conventional agrarian reform plays a regionally important
but all in all limited role in this policy. The current situation
requires an agricultural policy with
- regional differentiation in the goals of agricultural
- differentiation of policies according to various target
Both requirements cannot be fulfilled by mere agricultural
sector policies, but can only be incorporated in the country's
overall development policy. Creating suitable institutions
to represent the cause of agriculture is a prerequisite so
that agriculture is not suppressed by the other sectors of
economy and society.