Metamorphosis in Man – Land Relations

Changes in Issues, Priorities and Viewpoints

Frithjof Kuhnen*

Man – land relations are constantly changing. Natural, economic, social, political and technological conditions have to harmonize with the existing land tenure, and whenever they change – and this is taking place today with increasing speed – they result in poorly adjusted conditions and lead in the course of time to changes in land tenure. The process of adjustment often lags behind the emergence of a new situation, and this causes problems with respect to the efficiency of land use, equity, social balance within the society and environmental acceptability. The views regarding the significance of such lags, their main causes and the necessary forms of intervention change over time.

The beginning of the last half of the current century was a time of intense discussion on land tenure and its problems and was the witness of quite a number of land reforms. This was followed by a time in which many scholars considered these problems to be of minor importance and measures for improving the situation to be unnecessary, especially in view of the economic and political costs. The success of mechanical-technical and, even more so, of biological-technical innovations was believed to be so overwhelming that the fringe conditions could be neglected.

The political changes in the socialistic countries and their implications for the land tenure arrangements as well as the awakening of the masses in countries with sever shortcomings in their land tenure systems and, more recently, the impact of structural adjustment policies and the strengthening of the market forces as well as environmental concerns have led to a renaissance of discussions on man–land relations towards the end of this century.

These discussions certainly can, and must, draw on the insights and experience gained in the post World War II period, but they should concentrate on today’s issues, on new priorities and viewpoints. The paper at hand tries to highlight current issues in man – land relations without aiming at achieving entirety. That would not be possible within the limited scope of a short paper. (1)

Regional coverage will be limited here. While many of the issues discussed in the paper are of world-wide relevance, the author’s greater familiarity with Asia is reflected in his selection. In view of the widely differing land tenure problems between and within countries, it is unnecessary to stress the fact that all of the arguments are at a high level of abstraction and depict the situation in one country or one region more than in the others.


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(1) Overviews can be found in: Land Tenure in Development Cooperation, Guiding Principles, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), Schriftenreihe No. 264, Eschborn 1998; Kuhnen, Frithjof, Land Tenure in Asia, Acess to Land – Access to income, Changing Issues and Trends, Hamburg 1996.