3. Agrarian Systems

The system of land tenure (that is, land ownership and labour organization) and the technological and economic conditions are not independent factors. Their concrete form is interlaced with the natural and social conditions found in each specific area.

The natural conditions not only influence the production factors - generally good and poor soil, enough precipitation, and temperatures favourable for growth and working - but also influence what types of ownership are found in an area: large farms are seldom found, for example, in regions where the soil conditions are poor and the topography is mountainous.

Even more important is the relation between the agrarian structure and the existing social conditions in the individual countries and regions. Feudal, capitalistic, and socialistic social orders result in very different conditions of land ownership, systems of labour organization, and forms of cultivation. The social system, in other words, makes up the framework within which agrarian structures can evolve. In this process the state as well as tribes, landlords, communes, and colonial powers can determine the conditions. Within the framework of social conditions, the agricultural sector's economic goals, the function land fulfills, and the political and social system play significant roles. The economic goal can be vary from self sufficiency and satisfying one's needs, maintaining the farm, earning rent or interest on capital, production for the market, maximizing profits, or meeting economic plans. In doing so, land can function as a basis for earning one's livelihood, home, means of production, a commodity, an asset, annuity, power basis, or prestige object. Several functions can be combined.

The above-mentioned factors are not independent, but rather are embedded within a system; that is, a change in any factor results in a change in all of the other factors. The term "agrarian system" has been coined in order to conceptualize this complex system. The "agrarian system" consists of the "institutional, economic, socio-organizational, and ethical patterns found in the agricultural sector and rural areas that are oriented towards the superordinate economic and social system" (ROHM).

The following brief summary of the most important agrarian systems is by no means exhaustive and stresses in particular the most significant agrarian systems found in the developing countries.

Tribal and Kinship Agriculture

Migratory Herding

In this form of livestock industry, the animals are periodically driven to the pasture grounds. There are several types. In the case of mountain razing or alpine cattle keep , the livestock is kept in stables located in the valley during the winter; in the summer they are driven to the mountains by hired hands or family members who tend them and keep them there to graze. Transhumance characterized by periodical migrations with herds that belong to owners who live in a permanent settlement. The herds migrate between two climatic zones that have very different conditions (e.g., mountains and lowlands). Therefore it is not necessary to feed in stables during the winter. This form is found in all parts of the world and makes use of marginal areas. Pastoral nomadism is the wandering of social groups (clans, extended families) with their herds through tribal territory that serves them as pasture lands and that is often theirs more on the basis of tradition and domination than legally defined.

The insecurity involved in an existence in marginal regions forces the groups to be strongly tied together in order to protect grazing and water rights. The leadership of the group, therefore, demands strictly observed loyalty on the part of the group members, while the leader gives patronage and protection. The individual families are principally equal. Social differentiation is the result of a process of superior position of permanently settled cultivators with whom the nomads avoid integration by means of a special code of honour and closed marriage circles.

The right of use for the grazing areas is in the hands of the tribes, while the animals belong to the individual families. This differentiation results easily in the land being overgrazed if grazing land grows scarce. The tendency exists, namely, to won a herd with as many animals as possible and not to try to achieve high performance. The livestock is not only the basis on which the group's own needs are met and a security against times of crises, but it is at the same time the only form of maintaining a food buffer stock in a nomadic way of life. It creates, furthermore, prestige; serves as a source of gifts needed to meet social obligations, and to pay the bride price for the purpose of tying social relationships that, once again, serve as a means of securing the existence of the group.

In many cases, there are economic ties to the settled population. This is necessary to meet the demand for non-animal products. In recent times, cereal cultivation by tenants and farm hands hasincreased.

Migratory herding is of great importance for reclamation of desert and marginal regions as well as transport and trade routes. The production is, however; low and the land is frequently devastated by being over-grazed. It is difficult to motivate the tribal groups to change their mode of production. This is namely at the same time their way of life, and a change would include settling. Efforts taken in this direction have, however, little success as this transition would mean the necessity of taking up field cultivation, which is not respected, and giving up their elite position in other words turning away from the traditional culture.

Shifting Cultivation

Shifting cultivation is a type of farming in which the land under cultivation is periodically shifted so that fields that were previously, cropped are left fallow and subject to the encroaching forest. It is an original method of making use of land and can still be found today in the tropical rain forests. Shifting cultivation in the narrower sense means shifting both the land under cultivation and the settlement. More recently, however, the tendency has been to shift only the land that is cropped while the settlement remains permanent due to the increasing population density and influence of the state.

The land is common property and is controlled by social groups, usually tribes. The chieftain or land priest designates land to the individual families for their use. The land is cleared by cutting down the trees and burning the land. This land is cropped for several years and then left forest fallow while another piece of land is cleared. The regeneration period maintains the fertility of the land if it lasts long enough - in other words, if the population is very small. In this case, such extensive usage suffices, with limited input, to enable a meager, self-sufficient existence.

Labour is carried out by the family and is designated according to a culturally specific division of labour. Usually, the men clear the land whereas the women are responsible for planing, cultivation, and - in modern forms - marketing. This basically egalitarian social system is restricted to small groups, particularly families and tribes in which all needs can be satisfied and there is a strong solidarity. The groups practicing shifting cultivation have little contact with the new national states. At a time when the land was only sparsely settled, this system allowed a secure and lasting existence at a low level. There was no landless class, no land speculation and exploitation on the basis of private ownership, and the fertility of the land was maintained.

In recent times, the population increases in many regions have made it necessary to clear land more and more frequently and cut down on the time when the land is left fallow and, thus, endangered the fertility of the soil. An adjustment through tribal wars between tribes controlling a lot of land and tribes with little land is hardly possible today. The continual shifting of the settlements and fields hinders building up an infrastructure. The growing cities' demand for foodstuffs can only be satisfied with difficulty as sit is hardly possible to intensify production while using this system.

A transition of this system that no longer complies with today's demands, however, would meet with tremendous problems. It would necessitate the new states intervening in the traditional rights of the tribes. There is also a lack of suitable concepts. The concept that has been most frequently discussed to date is the individualization of rights in land. This, however, is a Western model that is so alien to the indigenous culture that it is only practiced hesitatingly.

Feudalistic Agriculture

Feudalism is not considered here under the aspect of an historical period in the development of society, but rather as a form of social stratification characterized by marked differences in property, income, power, and prestige. Between the minority consisting of large landowners and the majority made up of landless or people owning only very little land, there are mutually binding rights and obligations that are, however, very unbalanced.

Rental Feudalism

Fiefs, tax lease, or economic hegemony are the basis upon which the upper class of landowners (landlords) basis its domination over the dependent farmers and landless. As the latter have no other alternative means of earning their livelihood, they have to accept high rents, forced labour, and in some cases even personal dependence in order to find a livelihood as tenant or labourer. Even if agrarian reforms and economic development have brought about some changes, this system still exists in many parts of Asia as well as in the Mediterranean countries and Latin America .

Essential for the formation of this agrarian system is the concentration of the ownership of land and water in the hands of a few landlords whose interest in the land, however, is limited. They segment the land into small parcels to be farmed by sharecroppers. The duration of the contract often lasts for only one vegetation period. They are, indeed, frequently prolonged by tacit agreement, but the insecurity leads to a state of dependence. The gross output is divided between the landlord and tenant in the case of sharecropping. The tenant must obey the landlord's orders on cultivation. Because of the small size of the plots they rent, the economic situation of the sharecroppers is critical and they frequently lose even more freedom to the landlords as a result of debts. The landlords try to gain higher incomes by means of high rents while investing little effort instead of trying to reach the tenants to crop more intensively. The land is a source of rent for them that at the same time gives them prestige and power since the tenants' dependent state covers even their personal living conditions and forces them to be loyal in all situations. The system takes from the poor and gives to the rich. Profit is derived by siphoning off as much as possible, not by increasing production.

The large landlords do not control the tenants personally, but rather leave the job up to overseers (formerly to sub-leasers as well) who increase the exploitation. Although restrictions limiting the amount of land that can be owned have been introduced through agrarian reforms in the post-war period, they have been introduced through agrarian reforms in the post-war period. They have often led to only a replacement of the large, landlord by the petty landlord. Since the latter lives in the village, the control is even stricter. In areas in which the Green Revolution took place, the system has disintegrated because the landlords evicted the tenants and began to cultivate the land themselves. Under the new wage and earning ratios this proves to be more economical.

Latifundia (Hacienda)

Latifundia are overdimensional pieces of landed property covering tremendous areas. Today, they are only found in Latin America . The most widely spread form is the hacienda (facenda) that originated under colonial law allowing forced labour recruitment and through land grants for military services. A hacienda is an economic and social entity that, similar to a small state, strives to be self-sufficient and autarkic and is centered upon the "patron". The hacienda is not a farm but rather an area of land on which several different forms of labour organization and land utilization exist simultaneously, e.g., plantations and sharecropping. The intensity of the cultivation is very different on different parts of the hacienda, although low all in all. The haciendas include forest and waste land in their property.

The various economic units on the hacienda are tied together through labour relations. Cash is used as little as possible. The patron receives work performance from the labourers, tenants, coloni, herdsmen, the management, and other personnel and provides - even if with very low standards - schooling, medical aid, subsistence, old-age benefits, and stores. Wages, credit, and purchases are calculated together in an account in the store.

For the haciendero, the land is above all a source of respect, power, and speculation. Its significance as a basis of agricultural production is only secondary. The large landowners are the financial aristocracy in the countries and have a large influence on the government. A change in the government often only means that another family takes over. Despite their political interest, the hacienderos strive to uphold regionalism and, this, hinder the construction of an infrastructure in the country. There is a distinct class structure with landed property and race as the most important characteristics determining the strata. The patriarchal structure determines the life of the people from birth to death. It is hardly possible to break out of the system as there is nowhere else to find work. The coexistence of latifundia and minifundia (marginal farms), abundance and destitution, is hardly as marked in any agrarian system as this case.

Family Farming

In the case of family farming, the property and usage rights are in the hands of the individual families. The management and labour are carried out by the family that owns the farm and, thus, are independent of larger social groups. This type is found in Europe , in the European settlements as well as in many other parts of the world.

Land is the integrating factor in this rural social system. It is simultaneously the basis of existence, production factor, wealth, and home. In accordance with time-honoured custom, the land is not sold, but rather used and then passed on to the next generation. The economic goal is to satisfy the economic and social needs of all of the people living on the farm. Being a long­term goal that lasts for generations, farming must be carried out in such a way so that the fertility of the soil and the environment are not harmed.

There is a correlation between farms size and labour capacity. The ideal situation is when the farm is only large enough for the family to be able to carry out all of the work itself while meeting all of its needs. If the farm size is adequate and can satisfy these requirements, family farming is a stable system whose social stratification is limited and, therefore, is especially suited for cooperative work. In this case, the economic performance is remarkable. A decrease in the farm size as a result of being distributed among the heirs or loss through debts can endanger the system and sometimes leads to a transition to a feudal agrarian system. By educating and providing heirs who leave the farm with a start, the system renders considerable benefits for other economic sectors.

In Europe as well as in some developing countries, the farms have shifted their orientation towards the market, capitalization, and the employment of modern farnung methods sunder the guidance of extension service. This was accompanied by an increase in the size of the farms as an effect of the higher capitalization. Depending on the concomitant circumstances, this was connected with some of the farmers changing their occupation and taking up jobs outside agriculture or merely losses of property and a drop in social status. Since the latter is frequently the result of mismanagement and the inability to adapt to changing conditions, the attempt is sometimes made to take the key farm management decisions away from the previous farm manager through a system of "production under supervision" and achieve better results by means of central control. This can either be brought about by vertical integration or coercion and is especially widespread in the case of settlement projects.

As soon as an increased number of non-agricultural job opportunities are available in a region, various types of sideline activities and part time farms crop up. In other words, one or several members of the family take up a non-agricultural occupation.

Modern commercial farms are a derivative of the traditional family farm with a more commercial character. In the case of market-orientated, capital intensive family farms in Europe and the developing countries, however, the difference between commercial farms and family farming of a more peasant nature is becoming increasingly smaller.

Capitalistic Farming

Various forms of farming with characteristics of capitalistic management exist in the world. Examples are the farming corporations in North America , the ranches in Latin America , and the agroindustrial kombinats in Eastern Europe . The most important type of capitalistic farming in the developing countries are the plantations . A plantation is a large scale farm that primarily grows perennial crops, e.g., trees or bushes or shrubs, frequently in a one-crop system. The produce is usually processed industrially in the plantation' own processing plant and is destined for export (sugar cane, bananas, tea, coffee, cacao, sisal, oil palms, coconut, etc.). The plantation are often owned by foreigners.

The industrial processing demands consistent quality and an uninterrupted delivery of a quantity sufficient enough to make full use of the plants' capacity. The management is, therefore, characterized by strict control and a rigid hierarchy. By employing top-level personnel for the management, the productivity is very high. The plantation, however, serves first and foremost foreign interests and, as an enclave, is often of little benefit to the domestic economy. The countries receive large sums from the export taxes, indeed; however, the economic and political influence is sometimes considerable. Furthermore, the social conditions are often poor, although this varies. The working mass has a very low income, few prospects of a better job, and often miserable living conditions. The plantation supplies living quarters, indeed, but they are frequently of the poorest quality. Nutritional and health conditions are poor, partly due to the lacking subsistence production. Labourers are often recruited from other regions, countries, or population groups, which leads to even greater problems. Plantations that are owned by the domestic elite have the same characteristics, with the only difference being that the productivity is frequently lower.

Collectivistic Agriculture

According to the degree of collectivization, it is possible to differentiate between several basic types within this greatly varying agrarian system. In the case of socialistic agriculture, the means of production have been put into the hands of the public and the production is planned by the state. Communistic agriculture is not only an economic system, but rather an entire way of life. This can be politically or ethically/religiously based.

Socialistic Agriculture

According to the socialistic ideology, private ownership of land leads to exploitation. The socialization of the means of production is, therefore, an essential element of this agrarian system that is predominantly influenced by the political ideology. Belonging to this is the conception that small farms have been passed up by technical progress and should be combined into large economic units, therefore. The third component is the rigid state planning of the agricultural production. The actual long term goal - abolishing the difference between agricultural and industrial ways of life - has not been achieved to date. In fact, there are great differences between the individual East European countries and Cuba regarding the extent of their presently achieved socialization. Thus the extent of the socialistic sector in agriculture fluctuates between 96 % in the USSR and only 31 % and 15 % in Poland and Yugoslavia, respectively. The rest is split among small private farms and household plots that are allowed to the members of the collectives in all of the countries.

Regarding the farm organization in socialistic agricultural forms, a differentiation must be made between state farms (sowkhoz) and collective farms (Kolkhoz). The latter is often given preference because although it is subjected to complete state control, the state does not have to bear the economic risk. This is shifted onto the shoulders of the members. Furthermore, the state can influence and direct wage levels as well as capital formation and capital transfer by means of delivery quotas and fixed prices. In other words, it can use the agrarian sector for its own economic policy goals. In this system, the individual household plot production plays an important role. In this case, labour intensive production is carried out in order to improve the farm members' own supply while simultaneously producing crops that are difficult to grow on a large farm unit. Animal husbandry also plays a certain role in the household plots. The profits allow an improvement in the otherwise partially low incomes.

The system has a few elements that have to be regarded as weak points from a production performance viewpoint. The collection has to employ anyone looking for work owing to the right of employment, even if they are not needed. The percentage of controllers and idle time resulting from red tape on government farms is high. This, together with difficulties with the supply of inputs, results in relatively low production performance that, even over a longer period of time, cannot measure up to the productivity of Western industrial countries. It must be mentioned, however, that this is only one possible judgment criterion. The picture would be different if one took the factor contributions - the capital and labour transfer in other sectors -and contribution towards the political goals in these states into consideration.

Communistic Agriculture

Communistic agriculture can be based on a political and an ethical-religious syndrome.

In contrast to kolkhozes, the Chinese people's communes are a form of collectivization comprising all economic and living sectors - in other words, not only agriculture. The entire population in a region belongs to it, not only the agricultural population. This entity that can be as large as a rural district organizes within the area it covers agricultural and industrial production, services, education, health services, cultural programs, the administration, and political matters as well as some aspects of consumption and personal life.

Work is rigidly organized in a fashion similar to in the military and is disciplined. Internally, they are divided into three levels that carry out the work (Production groups, production brigades, and communes), whereby the relationships between state-commune and commune­brigade are regulated by contracts. The economic activities take place within the framework of state planning that, however, leaves room for local decisions.

The basic needs are regulated in an egalitarian manner and met with a basic cash wage and pay in kind in the form of staples as well as free education and health services, etc. In addition, it proved necessary to introduce bonuses in order to increase productivity as well as to allow private small-scale farming. Thus the society is in principle classless, but bonuses and private household plots as well as the existence of functionaries led to the formation of new social strata. However, the differences in income are no longer the result of differences between persons and/or families but rather between communes with different production and marketing conditions. These, in some cases, considerable differences are not directly noticeable.

The system is still in a process of change and has also led to important transformations in the society, e.g., the old family system no longer exists and women have been granted equality. It is particularly the success in organizing the population to build up the economy and form capital that makes this system attractive for other countries. It must be mentioned, however, that the possibility of, and conditions for, successfully introducing the system in other countries have not been adequately analyzed.

Since 1978, the socialist countries increasingly changed their policy concerning agriculture. The main features are:

  • Dismantling the commune. While the property of land remained public, management and utilization rights were given back to the households, each of which was given a piece of land according to family size and labour availability. In time, allotment was extended to 15 and even 40 years in order to give incentive and security.
  • Stopping state planning for agricultural management. The individual household were free again to cultivate according to their preference and decision (household responsibility system) as long as they fulfilled their quotas - which were phasing out in time - and paid their taxes. Decision making in the households was guided by free markets and prices.
  • Surplus labour was free to transfer to non-agricultural activities in the emerging Township - Village Enterprises, which were founded, first as collective, later as private enterprises.
  • The administrative role of the commune was assumed by the township government.

These changes, which had a remarkable production effect, are still in progress. Different countries experiment with different forms around the general strategy.

Collectivization has not been limited to socialistic systems. From of old, philosophical and religious communities have tried to create a way of life devoid of social differences, property, and mutual exploitation - in other words, under the signs of fraternity, equality, and justice. Usually they were small groups. In durability and significance, the kibbuz in Israel stands out among the other groups. This is a voluntary community comprising people, land, and capital for the purpose of collective production, distribution, consumption, and living. In all communistic forms, coercion played an important role in making the people take part. This took place either in the form of political pressure or an acute state of distress for the population that could be more rapidly overcome in a collective.