6.3.2 Importance of Freedom in Land Management
According to the traditional belief, when the land is owned by the cultivator, this provides incentives for hard work, land improvement and investments. A real ideology generated from the 250 year old saying, according to which the cultivator who owns land can change'sand into gold.' There are numerous examples of peasants who act in accordance with this saying, and much of our present landscape, compared with original conditions, result from activities incited by the feeling of being the owner of the land.
The enthusiasm about land ownership led to this experience being applied to other countries and societies and to the preconditions for the positive impact of land ownership being neglected:
- Farms of a sufficient size to support the owner's family in the long run. Marginal existences provide no incentives but urge on hunger.
- Institutional support such as extension service, marketing and supply organization, credit facilities, etc. provided to help the smallholder when he himself cannot tackle these activities because of the scale limitations of his operations.
- A positive attitude towards work and saving which considers the farm to be the basis of livelihood at long term and not as source of quick earnings.
- Freedom of decision so that the owner can act as an entrepreneur who risks his money but who also has the chance to improve his living standards by achieving higher earnings.
The ideology of land ownership was so pertinent that, even in our own society, an example of the opposite has been forgotten. The prototype of a productive modern cultivator has always been the tenant of public land, i.e., someone who does not own the land but leases it for a fixed term, usually 12 or 20 years.
A lesson regarding these questions has been taught in recent years by the formerly socialistic countries when they put an end to communes and distributed the land to smallholders. They did not foster land ownership. Instead, land ownership by the state was maintained, and the households were given rights of use and management on condition that they pay taxes and practice 'good cultivation.' This alone brought about tremendous increases in production and productivity as well as in investment.
However, this had not been the case from the very beginning. While some increase in output could be realized as soon freedom of management was granted to the peasant, the full upswing in output was only achieved when land was allowed to be transferred for a longer period, usually for 15 years together with the possibility of renewing the lease, and when the usufruct rights became transferable and inheritable. These two regulations provided the security that, whatever investments they made, the cultivators themselves or their family would reap the benefit.
Here, it seems that a system has been developed which prevents exploitation, speculation, and unearned windfall profits on the basis of control over land, but which provides the necessary incentives for productive cultivation.
It is too early to assess whether the increase in production is just a reaction to the new opportunities which the peasant seize to improve their livelihood or whether the system initiates a permanent, steady increase in production. The decision thereon will perhaps depend upon the quality of supporting services.