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 structures.
  • 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 owner-family

  • 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 are necessary.
  • 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 policy
  • differentiation of policies according to various target groups.

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.