Changing Functions of Land for the Society

In addition to the changes in the relations of individuals and households to the land, the last 50 years have brought considerable alteration in the functions of land for the society at large.

Of extreme pertinence is the issue of the rapid conversion of cropping land for non-agricultural use. It has been estimated that about 500,000 ha of land are annually lost to agriculture in developing countries due to urban expansion. In addition, land is used for roads, factories, sport and recreational facilities etc. – frequently in an unplanned, uncoordinated way. It is no exception when fertile, irrigated plains are used for new factories while nearby slopes remain in the hands of the agriculturists. In this context, land-use planning must receive a much higher priority. Not only within the cities but in the regions surrounding the metropolitan areas as well, new man – land relations are emerging. Migrants from rural areas often settle in such regions, legally or illegally as squatters, without planning, water or sanitation facilities, and hope to find employment in the cities. Livestock owners reside there with their animals with the hope of earning good money by producing milk to be sold to urban consumers, often based on purchased roughage. Brick kilns emerge there in order to profit from the low transportation costs and the great demand from the construction companies. They convert the land into sand pits and quarries. Services open shops in these areas – last but not least automobile businesses – and a great deal of land is wasted for garbage dumps, whether legal or illegal. All of this takes place mainly on public land, but farmers who want to profit from the increases in the price of land in the peri-urban areas might sell or lease their property.

While population growth and increasing urbanization definitely require more land for non-agricultural use, the unplanned and uncoordinated way this process is allowed to proceed shows a change in the man – land relations and would not have been possible without an increasing part of the population losing interest in cultivation of the soil.

The same holds true in the case of a related development, the growing ecological problems which have been the subject of several important international conferences. In part, they are a consequence of the above-mentioned developments in the peri-urban regions and require a rapid introduction of land-use planning. But they are widespread, in the rural areas as well as on the land used for agricultural purposes. The overuse of chemicals, the absence of drainage systems to prevent salinity and waterlogging, the ploughing of slopes unsuitable for arable cultivation and deforestation are just a few examples of a process which would have probably not been possible without changes in the attitude of man towards land – in particular the end of the era in which the cultivator understood himself as the custodian of the land he had received from his father and had to transfer to his children as the basis of their living. This last phenomenon was a consequence of the transition for a peasant farmer to a commercial farmer. The modern goal of sustainable development requires broadening the discussion surrounding the old conflict between efficiency and equity to make a triangle which includes the environmental aspects.

The problems in the man – land relations are of a somewhat different character in areas in which there is extreme outmigration. The youth tend to outmigrate, frequently followed by others, from remote mountain regions where the quality of the soil is poor, transportation is difficult and there is a lack of other resources. In the end, only a few older people remain residing in the village, too few to cultivate the poor soil and too few to maintain a service structure. At the same time, this frequently signifies that the necessary labour in not available to protect the landscape, to act in case of calamities such as forest fires, etc. Whereas in the past such situations were the exception, they can now be found with increasing frequency.


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