Agrarian Reform - New Tasks for the 90s

Frithjof Kuhnen

Agrarian Reforms are measures designed to overcome obstacles that are the result of shortcomings in the agrarian structure and which are hindering economic and social development. Changes in land tenure (ownership, tenancy and labour organization) as well as changes in land use (reform of land management) belong to these measures. Agrarian reforms usually have a package of goals, comprising political, social as well as economic components. Changes of power structure, the abolishment of feudalism, an increase in equality of income and chances of life and an increase of production and productivity play an important role.

In recent years, the call for agrarian reform as well as the execution of the actual measures have decreased considerably because of several reasons:

  • In a number of countries, reform laws led to an abolishment of intermediaries and of large landlords, which decreased the pressure for land reform. This is not to say that no more measures are necessary. Especially in Latin America, agrarian reform is still in its infant stage.
  • While thirty years ago the peasantry demanded access to land ("land to the tiller"), with an increasing differentiation of the economy, nowadays the goal of the rural youth is not so much access to a piece of land, but access to income. Whatever the source: agriculture, industrial work, trade or even work abroad. For many, agriculture is only one among several options.
  • In the eyes of many people, the "Green Revolution" proved that agricultural develop ment is possible without basic institutional changes like an agrarian reform. This, however, is a short-sighted viewpoint. Growth without structural changes leads to a situation, where the rich become richer, and the poor become poorer. Only in case of
    egalitarian agrarian structure do new technologies not lead to social polarization, but rather to a healthy stratification of the society.
  • In some countries development has reached a stage at which agriculture has become the activity of a minority, and at which only enlargement of small farms makes an in come possible which is comparable to that of industrial workers.

All these are no arguments against the need for changes in land tenure, but only for a different type of land reform. Land reform is an "unfinished business". Any agrarian structure permanently has to adjust to changing circumstances, and therefore this process will never end. As institutional framework within which agricultural production occurs and which is characterized by a specific way of life of the rural population, the land tenure system is interrelated with the natural, economic, social and political conditions. As these conditions change, the land tenure system continually has to be adapted to these changing situations.

Changing situations, however, influence goals of agrarian reform and those of target groups. Currently the writer sees two new spheres of ill-adapted relation of man and land, which urgently require redress.