Limitation of Land Use Rights

While traditional agrarian reform usually meant limiting ownership rights and was targeted at the large landowners, the current situation requires a limitation of land use rights and reforms which are targeted at all cultivators, large and small, market-integrated and subsistence-oriented.

Limitations of land use rights are necessary in order to stop environmental degradation caused by agriculture. Traditionally, smallholders were seen as persons who guarantee a sustainable agriculture because of their generational thinking and their "farm centered" life organization. In modern times, this does not hold true. All over the world land use is practically more or less unrestricted. Modern technology, increase in population pressure as well as changing attitudes have disturbed the equilibrium between land use and sustainability, because individuals use the land for their private gains at the expense of the land resource common to mankind:

  • European farmers apply nitrogen to an extent that the ground water becomes polluted, i. e. for the sake of private benefit the consequences for the common good are neglected.
  • African herdsmen enlarge their private herds to such a degree that public grazing lands are affected and eventually destroyed.
  • Latin American timber companies cut large areas of Amazon rain forest in order to exploit the few high-value timber trees. Thus they damage the entire eco-system with all its consequences.
  • Asian poor and often landless cultivate steep slopes to harvest some staples for their family's subsistence at the cost of quick erosion and devastation of the vegetation.

Examples are numerous. A new phase of agrarian reform is necessary including measures which assure that private interest and public interest are harmonized, and that individuals cannot exploit public property for their egoistic interests. The notion of social accountability in property rights ("Sozialpflichtigkeit des Eigentums") has to come to the forefront whenever technologies endanger the ecosystem. Such a "code of land use" is urgently needed if environmental degradation is to be stopped.