In principle, a reduction in the number of the farming population is nothing bad, but rather a necessary component of economic development. A widening man-land ratio means relatively less pressure on the land and a chance of increasing labour productivity. This phasing out of many families from cultivation is a process paid for by agriculture and can be seen as a contribution of this sector to development. During the period of transition, one can expect a rapid inclusion of the rural areas in the monetary system and the financing of agricultural inputs with the income earned from non-agricultural activities. This may speed up the introduction of modern technologies in smallholder agriculture.

In the long run, however, the negative consequences may predominate, especially if the process is not geared by suitable policy measures. The smaller the holdings become, the less they can be the base for financing training and migration costs, the less they can pay for local infrastructure and its maintenance and the less the proceeds suffice to allow the application of modern inputs in agriculture.

As farm size decreases, the common rural social security system becomes paralysed. Hitherto, the farm acted as a buffer to absorb the risk of invalidity, sickness and old age, primarily for the owner family, but, to a minimal extent, for the dependent labourer and the service community as well. This depends, naturally, on the capability and thus on the income-generating capacity of the farm related to its size. Today, we experience that, in more and more cases, the farm size shrinks below subsistence level and thus, below the possibility to provide minimal social security before other institutions take over. Labourers are affected earlier than owner family members. Turkey is a good example of this situation, and not the only one.
The necessary introduction of social policy into the measures of rural development will require time, not least because it involves a basic change in concepts. It includes difficult problems of organization under the conditions prevailing in developing countries and of financing in poor societies. These problems are not unsurmountabie, especially if one considers the numerous payments for social purposes already effected today by private, public, religious and other sectors.

The main issue along with a diminishing traditional peasant agriculture is the future relation between man and land, a highly political question which requires time-consuming processes of thought, conceptualisation and negotiation. There are several options for a post-peasant agriculture, however, a mix is the most likely:

Peasants may stop dividing the farm at the time of inheritance in order to keep the farm going as a centre for the whole family. This requires enough non-farm jobs and affects the old custom of equal treatment for all children.

  • Heirs of small plots of land may start part-time farming of one or the other type.
    This, as well, requires non-agricultural jobs and differs from the first alternative
    mainly because of its different effect on the place of residence of the persons
    Lease, contract farming and entrustment of land may become widespread, with one brother continuing farming his and his brothers' land. The others engage in non-agricultural activities. Again, such jobs are a precondition. This system settles the distribution problem among the brothers in a way well known to all.
  • If this continues over a long time, the result may be a division of landownership
    between a small number of progressive farmers cultivating larger holdings of
    owned and leased land along modern lines, and the majority having homesteads
    only, which they keep for sentimental reasons, as a rural residence or as
    subsistence contribution. Not only social but also economic ties are possible
    between those two groups.
  • Smallholders may choose not to work as part-time farmers proper, but to join a
    production cooperative which has personnel and a machine stock and performs all
    or most of the work, while the owner family helps only in a limited number of
    activities such as weeding and harvesting.
  • Landowners with secure non-agricultural jobs, perhaps residing far away, may
    prefer to hand over the land to companies which assume all the responsibility for
    management and work and pay at the end of the year for the use of the factor land
    like a stock company.

All these forms already exist, even if some of them only in a small number. Each type gets on with the different goals of the landowners concerned which, again, are generated by the varying circumstances under which these live. Which type becomes most widespread is strongly influenced by policy and is, in cause and effect, a question of values in societies. The development will lead to a reduction in the independence of villages and peasants in the agrarian society and to an increase in the differentiation and mutual dependencies of groups in the society.

It is important to study at an early stage the pros and cons of different types of man-land relations so that the policy-makers have enough information and instruments to guide the process. Neglecting this process will lead to speculation, non-agriculturists taking over the land, windfall profits, especially on the fringe of urban areas, tax avoidance, etc. Some newly industrialized countries, where the process has progressed most, already show enough undesirable cases.


The last generation of 'peasants' is approaching
in: Quarterly Journal of International Agriculture ; 30, H. 2, 1991,
S. 105-108.