1. Defects in Land Tenure System and Land Reform Measures
Asia is no uniform region but is made up of countries with
different cultural and historical backgrounds, levels of economic
and social development and density of population. Keeping
this limitation in mind, land tenure problems can be summarized
In most areas of Asia density of population is high in relation
to cultivable land. Ownership of land, however, is often concentrated
in the hands of few landlords who usually do not cultivate
their land as one large farm, but rent it to numerous small
tenants. They hardly take the opportunity to influence the
management of the holdings by the tenants who are often untrained.
Often the owners do not even live on their land but in the
cities, and limit their activities to rent collecting. Due
to the high demand for land concomitant to the rise in population,
even small landowners sometimes find it profitable to lease
their land and live on the rent as petty landlords.
The most prevalent form of tenancy in Asia is sharecropping,
where the rent is determined as a share of the product. Usually,
the tenant has no security as contracts are not laid down
in written form and are often on a one-year basis only. The
rent is frequently as high as 50 per cent of the harvest,
even is the landlord does not share costs of cultivation.
Increasing pressure of population on land was the main reason
for the development of so-called intermediaries, persons who
stand between landlord and tenant and are more or less without
any economic functions, but who nevertheless collect a share
of production and thus increase the rent of the actual tiller.
In some countries, administrative procedures, especially tax
policy, have led to the formation of a class of tax-collectors
with right to revenue and/or land; at the beginning this right
was often given as remuneration for services, later it became
a mere rent.
Insecurity of tenancy and the fact that share tenants receive
only a part of the proceeds of their investment, leads the
tenant to cultivate the land less intensively and hinders
investments in agriculture. The low income, drawn from the
small holdings, is the cause for general poverty and indebtedness.
In addition, if the landlord acts as money-lender, he has
full power over his tenants.
Even in areas with owner cultivation, the situation is often
not much better. Population growth and the inheritance system
led to a continuous reduction of farm size. Often farms become
reduced below the size of an economic holding so that they
cannot supply satisfactory subsistence for the families, especially
if fragmentation of plots, less intensive use of land and
low level of technical training of the peasants are taken
into consideration. If these small holders incur debts, the
high interest rate may cause a loss of ownership.
Due to limited land and primitive techniques of farming,
peasants usually lack sufficient work and underemplyment is
widespread. This holds especially true for the landless labourers
who are employed during the rest of the time. A large number
of them migrate to the cities hoping for better employment:
usually they are not successful, so that the employment problem
is only transferred from the rural to the urban areas.
The contribution of such an agrarian structure to capital
formation and general ecconomic development is limited. The
greater part of the population is too poor to pay taxes and
landlords use their political influence to prevent rigid tax
laws. Even their private profits often do not promote economic
development because they are devoted to luxury and conspicuous
consumption or are transferred abroad. The masses of the peasantry
have neither the possibility nor the incentive to increase
their production. The whole rural economy is in stationary
condition and hinders the dynamic growth of agriculture. The
consequences are not limited only to the economic aspects
but reach into the social and political fields as well.
In order to attain the desired development of economy and
society, the rural sector needs the right institutional framework:
In the economic field, production and productivity have to
be increased and resources have to be transferred to other
The prevailing agrarian structure is obstructing this because
- uneconomic size of holdings;
- fragmentation of fields;
- lack of credit and marketing facilities resulting in
- lack of incentive because of tenure systems;
- low mobility of men, land and capital;
- lack of technical training and knowledge of peasants.
On the social side, the aim is to increase the standard of
living of the rural population and to improve their position
The agrarian structure counteracts these aims by:
- maldistribution of ownership causing unequal distribution
of income and wealth;
- poor output of petty holdings leading to meagre incomes;
- exploitation by and dependence on the landlord;
- indebtedness to money-lenders;
- insufficient opportunities for work and unemployment.
The political goals are: changes in the power structure,
removal of feudal structures, political freedom and justice.
But the agrarian structure results in:
- concentration of power in the hands of landlords;
- economic power based on control of resources and means
- political power based on economic power;
- distribution of income and wealth according to power
instead of contribution to production.
Problems resulting from the agrarian structure are not new.
A land tenure system is the institutional framework which
society creates to make agricultural production possible and
which reflects the level of development in society, economy
and technology. As the last three are continuously changing,
the institutional framework for agricultural production has
therefore to be constantly adapted to the new situation. Because
of the persistent nature on institutions, such adaptation
usually takes place with a time lag after the high pressure
for reform or revolution makes changes inevitable and external
forces create a favourable climate for reform. Such a situation
developed in the region after the Second World War, when many
Asian countries became independent. During the last twenty
years, quite a number of reform measures have been applied
in different countries proving more or less successful. They
can be grouped under three headings: abolition of intermediaries,
ceilings and redistribution of land and tenancy reform.