III. Re-appraisal of Agrarian Reform in the Light of Today's Priorities in Rural Development

From the preceding discussion the following conclusions may be drawn:

  • Asian agriculture is hindered by serious defects in land tenure and agrarian structure;
  • the reforms of the last twenty years have only brought very limited improvements;
  • the recent technological changes in agriculture have not solved the problems of land tenure and agrarian structure but made reforms even more pressing.

Contrary to the opinion sometimes advanced that the Green Revolution by its inherent force can solve the problems of agricultural production without necessitating any changes in land tenure, the issue of agrarian reform today is as topical as ever.

In the following section an attempt will be made to appraise agrarian reform and its possibilities to help in solving the current issues of rural development. It is not intended to make a complete list of all the factors involved, but rather to limit attention to some aspects which seem to be of special significance. This does not exclude the existence of other aspects which may be equally important. The idea is to cast doubt on some widely held opinions by formulating some provocative theses.

To name priorities in rural development is a matter of judgment. Without denying other important aspects, in the author's opinion, three tasks are of top priority in Asian rural 'development today.

— Increase of Agricultural Production

Many Asian countries have a history of food shortage which not only hindered the development process but brought grief to millions of human beings. Today, because of the Green Revolution, the food crisis has been relieved, although not all over Asia. Besides, the rapid population growth and increasing income raised the demand for food and a well balanced diet, calling for diversification of cultivation, so that crops other than staple food grain are being produced.

— Better Utilization of Rural Labour Force

The Green Revolution has shown that higher production is not enough. It brought food on the market but not necessarily to the homes of the hungry who lack purchasing power. The cause for their poverty is lack of employment. In view of the increasing number of un- and underemployed, the rapid growth of population and the slow development of non-agricultural sector, most of them can only find employment in the agricultural sector. Agriculture has the difficult task of absorbing the masses who cannot find employment elsewhere and provide them with the basis for livelihood.

— More Social and Economic Equality for the Rural Population

The tension amongst the rural population in many countries has reached the level where a higher degree of social and economic equality becomes a precondition for economic development. Only then will the political climate, in which increases in production and employment can be achieved, be secured and maintained.

According to theory, these three priority goals are incompatible. Agrarian reform literature often suggests that higher production and more equality are contradictory goals. As a first thesis, it is suggested here, that under Asian conditions, higher production, more employment and more social and economic equality are complementary goals. Higher production, whether achieved with modern technology or within traditional agriculture, requires the application of more labour and can be reached in the long run only if the necessary social and economic equality provides incentives and the possibility for more effort on the part of the producers.

A precondition for this thesis is the possibility to reach higher production by higher inputs of labour, i. e. agriculture produces below the production possibility curve because of unutilized resources in labour, land and capital.

A second thesis is that often it is technically possible to increase production by more inputs of labour. This is possible without investment and innovations, i. e. within the framework of traditional agriculture because of unused resources. This is evident from a comparison of good and poor holdings under equal conditions, by comparing optimum yield and average yield and from the fact that resources of land and water are insufficiently or incorrectly used. Underutilization of available irrigation, limited application of double cropping and unused arable land indicate that agriculture in Asia is often not as intensive as it could be. If we apply modern technology, the possibilities to raise production by applying more labour increase even further. Fertilizers, improved varieties, pesticides, better utilization of water, double cropping, etc. require larger amounts of additional work.

If these two theses are accepted, the next logical step is to ask why the potential is not used by many Asian peasants. This question is all the more relevant as it becomes more and more accepted that Asian peasants behave quite rationally within the given framework. It is suggested that institutional factors hinder the application of more labour in agriculture.

Among the institutions hindering a higher input of labour, land tenure systems play an important role. We believe that the prevailing unequal distri-ubtion of land and water is a major hindrance for the application of more labour. Many holdings in Asia are so small that the labour force available cannot be used up. As the opportunity cost of labour in many such cases equals zero, the family will apply more labour until the marginal productivity nears zero. Even then the small holdings often provide no opportunity to use the labour available. On the other hand, large farms offer less possibilities for work because they tend to be labour extensive. The cropping pattern of large farms favours crops requiring less labour than those typical for small holdings, and large farms tend to keep fewer livestock, which is labour consuming.

It is often argued that reduction of farm size is against the needs of economic development. It seems, however, that this cannot be generalized. Larger holdings are the first to apply modern techniques and are often examples of good cultivation. On the other hand, usually with increasing size of farms, the intensity and yield per acre diminish. There is experience to show that after dividing large holdings into smaller ones, productivity was maintained or even increased (Japan, Taiwan, Egypt). If it is sometimes claimed that production has been reduced after reforms, it is usually because of confusion between production and marketed production. Another important factor in this connection is that the conditions for production are very often more in favour of larger holdings while the service structure necessary for small holdings is not available.

On a closer scrutiny it is apparent that the positive features attributed to larger farms do not generally hold true. Although, in areas of the Green Revolution, larger farms usually apply modern technology, and even in rain-fed areas, some large farms offer examples of good cultivation, this is more the exception than the rule. The majority of large holdings in Asia are not centrally managed, but cultivated by a large number of small tenants and often with little advice or influence by the landlord. In all such cases, the advantages of large farms in achieving improved production do not apply since there is no large farm as an operating unit but only a large ownership holding. Since this applies to the majority of cases, it is suggested that under Asian conditions, reduction of farm size by redistribution of land of large holdings is in agreement with preconditions for economic development because this will increase production and labour input. Economies of scale in general are primarily related to labour saving techniques, while land saving techniques, such as improved seeds, fertilizers, pesticidse, etc., in principle can be applied by all farm sizes. Besides, it seems that increasing farm size belongs to a later stage of development than that reached by most Asian countries.

If one accepts the fact that agriculture has to absorb the majority of the increasing population, an allocation of land to farm sizes on the basis of their capacity to employ labour seems to be indicated. This would be in favour of small farms which are also the best choice if production increases have to be attained with a minimum of resources in short supply. The question remains how far the farm size can be reduced without production suffering. This obviously varies with the prevailing conditions and especially with the rural service structure, but it can be taken for granted that the minimum size is much lower than the ceilings instituted in many countries.

Next to farm size, the prevailing system of labour organization is of importance in this connection. The thesis is advanced that the widespread insecure tenancy and sharecropping hinders the application of more labour. High rental charges, danger of further augmentation and the dependence of their status is, to quite an extent, responsible for the low level of labour utilisation. The tenants have no incentive to increase their efforts as they are not sure that they will earn the proceeds of their investment of work and capital. For the same reason, they are not likely to accept new labour-intensive techniques. In some cases, landlords are even interested in maintaining traditional agriculture because they can better control the crops thus cultivated.

Restrictions on the amount of work performed apply not only to small farms. As further thesis it is suggested that the existing status hierarchy, decision-taking based on seniority, and attitudes towards labour, especially manual labour, hinder the application of more work in agriculture. It is sometimes incompatible with the status of the landowner to perform manual labour so that his functions are limited to the supervision of the work of others. This is the case not only for big landlords, but often for all those whose property is above the average in the village. Within the traditional structure of the extended family it often occurs that the older, more traditional members of the family prevent innovations which are suggested by younger more progressive members.

The application of more work to agriculture would, in many cases, increase production, even under conditions of traditional agriculture. The Green Revolution has shown that an even higher increase in production is attainable by applying modern technology in agriculture and that this technology requires more labour per unit of land than traditional farming.

Modern technology has a high demand for rural services, such as trade, marketing, provision of credit and extension services. It seems that much of the difference in efficiency in large and small holdings can be attributed to differences in access to the rural service structure. Regardless of many attempts to organize schemes for the provision of the necessary services to small farmers, competition for these services always ends with larger farmers having them at their disposal while they are less easily obtainable by small holdings. Without access to rural services, however, smaller farmers have hardly a chance to share in the modern productive and labourintensive agricultural technology. Small farmers are either driven entirely out of agriculture or revert back to traditional subsistence farming. If small holdings are to participate in modern technology and benefit from higher productivity and intensive utilization of labour, a modification of the rural service structure seems necessary. In view of the inherent difficulties in supplying rural services to small farms without larger farms reaping the maximum benefit the thesis is advanced that a dual system of rural service structure is necessary, especially for credit and for the supply of inputs and marketing, in order to let small farms have a share in modern technology. The service system for small farms should not be accessible to large holdings, should have other terms and conditions to satisfy the special needs of small farmers and may very well include subsidies.

It is beyond the topic of this paper to discuss possible forms of organization for rural services. In passing, the opinion shall be expressed that organizations with the village as a basis of their activities — like village co-operatives — seem to have a poorer record than those which serve small regions. The latter are above intra-village rivalry and have a turnover which is large enough to allow the employment of trained professional staff. Farmers' Associations and the Comilla scheme are examples of the latter type.

The need for dualistic service structure includes research which up to the present tends to promote larger farms. To let small farmers participate in the development of agriculture, a reallocation of research efforts seems to be indicated. The experience made in Japan shows that it is quite possible to develop modern technology for small holdings.

These measures to improve the rural service structure for smaller farmers are part of the reform of land operation which attains special importance if intensification and modernization of agriculture and not merely land redistribution is aimed at. But these measures can be of benefit only to those peasants and tenants who have control over the organization of their holding and security of their tenure. This hardly applies to sharecroppers and insecure tenants whose position has to be improved before reform of farm operation can be of use to them. In order to let them share in the modernization process of agriculture, so that they can apply labour more intensively and attain higher yields and income, successful measures of tenancy reform are a prerequisite.

Experience in Asia shows that tenancy reforms have a good record if tenants join in special organizations to represent their interests against landowners. The thesis is advanced that tenants' associations are a prerequisite for successful tenancy reform, because only the increased bargaining power of the masses of tenants is strong enough to withstand the landlords. The establishment of such associations seems very urgent in order to attain the conditions which make it possible for the tenants to apply their labour for their own betterment.

These and other checks on the power of the rural upper classes are indicated for several reasons. A contribution of the affluent progressive farmers to over-all development and the transfer of part of their gains to public ends will be possible only if political and economic power are separated and economic power is limited to a level which is not destructive to society. This has to be attained in a way that maintains the economic performance of progressive farmers which is so necessary for the economy; but it should also be ensured that the activities of the progressive farmers are not only to their own personal benefit but to the welfare of society at large. This new aspect of land reform will be more difficult to implement than the abolition of intermediaries. It was relatively easy to mobilize public opinion against them but it will be much more difficult to get support against progressive farmers who have done everything the government asked them to do to improve the food situation and who are therefore praised as having great merits. However, if the goal of increased social and economic equality has any meaning, part of their gains in finance and power have to be transferred to society as a whole.

Concerning the landless, the same holds true as for tenants. The necessary economic and social equality of agricultural labourers is attainable only if they associate in organizations which can bargain with their employers. This is a repetition of experiences in industry where capitalistic industry required labour unions to function as a counterbalance. The task, however, is much more difficult in view of the lack of training and experience of rural labourers.

Provisions for suitable land tenure systems and agrarian structures along the lines indicated above will undoubtedly increase employment, production and income and contribute to more social and economic equality. However, the limitation of the factor land in many regions sets a limit to this process. Even with complete utilization of all employment possibilities in agriculture by necessary agrarian reform measures in some regions, not all the available labour force can be employed. Here, unemployment and underemployment will continue with their adverse effects on progress in agriculture. Agrarian reform can contribute to the employment problem but not solve it. The employment problem can be solved only in the framework of the comprehensive development process of which agrarian reform is one important aspect. If rural employment projects, such as transfer of "overflow" irrigation to "controlled" irrigation, control of salinity and waterlogging, building up of rural infrastructure, etc., are used to improve the agrarian structure, these measures can promote the development of agriculture which in turn can help industry by raising the purchasing power of the rural masses. With this in mind, as a last thesis, it is suggested that successful agrarian reform has to be incorporated in the over-all planning of development. Agrarian reforms as limited measures are always of limited effect.