Land reform

From Academic Kids

Land reform (also agrarian reform) is the government-initiated or government-backed redistribution of — i.e. transfer of ownership of (or tenure in) — agricultural land. The term most often refers to transfer from ownership by a relatively small number of wealthy (or noble) owners with extensive land holdings (e.g. plantations, large ranches, or agribusiness plots) to individual or collective ownership by those who work the land. Such transfer of ownership may be with or without consent or compensation; compensation may vary from token amounts to the full value of the land. The land value tax is a moderate version of land reform.

This definition is somewhat complicated by the issue of state-owned collective farms. In various times and places, land reform has encompassed the transfer of land from ownership — even peasant ownership in smallholdings — to government-owned collective farms; it has also, in other times and places, referred to the exact opposite, division of government-owned collective farms into smallholdings.

Agrarian or land reform has been a recurring theme of enormous consequence in world history — see, for example, the history of the Semproninan Law or Lex Sempronia agraria proposed by Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and passed by the Roman Senate 133 B.C.E., which led to the social and political wars that ended the Roman Republic.

In the modern world and in the aftermath of colonialism and the Industrial Revolution, land reform has occurred around the world, from the Mexican revolution (1917) to Communist China to Bolivia (1952) to Zimbabwe and Namibia. Land reform has been especially popular as part of decolonization struggles in Africa and the Arab world, where it was part of the program for African socialism and Arab socialism. Cuba has seen one of the most complete agrarian reforms in Latin America. Land reform was an important step in achieving economic development in many Third World countries since the post-World War II period, especially in the East Asian Tigers and "Tiger Cubs" nations such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Malaysia.

Since mainland China's economic reforms led by Deng Xiaoping land reforms have also played a key role in the development of the People's Republic of China.


Land ownership and tenure

See main article Land ownership and tenure.

The variety of land reform derives from the variety of land ownership and tenure. Among the possibilities are:

In addition, there is paid agricultural labor — under which someone works the land in exchange for money, payment in kind, or some combination of the two — and various forms of collective ownership. The latter typically takes the form of membership in a cooperative, or shares in a corporation, which owns the land (typically by fee simple or its equivalent, but possibly under other arrangements). There are also various hybrids: in many communist states, government ownership of most agricultural land has combined in various ways with tenure for farming collectives.

The peasants or rural agricultural workers who are usually the intended primary beneficiaries of a land reform may be, prior to the reform, members of failing collectives, owners of inadequate small plots of land, paid laborers, sharecroppers, serfs, even slaves or effectively enslaved by debt bondage.

The philosophy behind land reform

Philosophically there are strong arguments to justify land reform: Multiple legal titles to the same land decrease its usefulness, some of the titles may have been obtained through theft (sometimes aided by control of the legal system), the greatest good for the most people, a right to dignity, or a simple belief that justice requires a policy of "land to the tiller". However, many of these arguments conflict with prevailing notions of property rights in most societies and states. Except to minarchists, state facilitation of "willing seller, willing buyer" transactions is relatively unproblematic, but other forms of land reform generally raise questions about a society's conception of rights and of the proper role of government.

These questions include:

  • Is private property of any sort legitimate?
  • If so, is land ownership legitimate?
  • If so, are historic property rights in this particular state and society legitimate?
  • Even if property rights are legitimate, do they protect absolutely against expropriation, or do they merely entitle the property owner to partial or complete compensation?
  • How should property rights be weighed against rights to life and liberty?
  • Who should adjudicate land ownership disputes?
  • At what level of government is common land owned?
  • What constitutes fair land reform?

Land reform for poverty alleviation and food security

Access to land is a crucial factor in the eradication of food insecurity and rural poverty. The world's poorest people are usually land-poor; improved access to land provides shelter and food — allowing a household to increase food consumption — and may increase household income if surplus food is produced and sold. [1] (

Land reform efforts

Latin America

Middle East

Land reform is discussed in the article on Arab Socialism


Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Namibia: A limited land reform has been a hallmark of the regime of Sam Nujoma; legislation passed in September 1994, with a "willing seller, willing buyer" approach.
  • South Africa: Land reform was one of the promises made by the African National Congress when it came to power in South Africa in 1994. The system is based on fair price system, land is bought from its owners (willing seller) by the government (willing-buyer) and redistributed.
  • Zimbabwe: Very controversial efforts at land reform in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe has moved steadily from a "willing seller, willing buyer" approach toward outright expropriation, often for the benefit of people close to the government.

North America

  • Canada: A land reform was carried out as part of Prince Edward Island's agreement to join the Canadian confederation in the 1870s. Most of the land was owned by absentee landlords in England, and as part of the deal Canada was to buy all the land and give them to the farmers.


  • China has been through a series of land reforms:
    • The thorough land reform launched by the Communist Party of China in 1946, three years before the foundation of the People's Republic of China (PRC), won the party millions of supporters among the poor and middle peasantry. The land and other property of landlords were expropriated and redistributed so that each household in a rural village would have a comparable holding. This agrarian revolution was made famous in the West by William Hinton's book Fanshen.
    • In the mid-1950s, a second land reform compelled individual farmers to join collectives, which, in turn, were grouped into People's Communes with centrally controlled property rights and an egalitarian principle of distribution. This policy was generally a failure in terms of production. [2] ( There is evidence that the PRC began to reverse this policy even in the 1960s.
    • A third land reform beginning in the late 1970s re-introduced family-based contract system called the household responsibility system, which had enormous initial success, followed by a period of relative stagnation. Chen, Wang, and Davis [1998] suggest that the later stagnation was due, in part, to a system of periodic redistribution that encouraged overexploitation rather than capital investment in future productivity. [3] (
  • India: Due the taxation and regulation under the British Raj, at the time of independence, India inherited a semi-feudal agrarian system, with ownership of land concentrated with a few individual landlords (Zamindars, Zamindari System). Since independence, there has been voluntary and state initiated/mediated land reforms in several states.The most notable and successful example of land reforms is in the state of West Bengal. After promising land reforms and elected to power, the Communist Party of India kept their word and initiated gradual land reforms. The result was a more equitable distribution of land among the landless farmers. This has ensured an almost life long loyalty from the farmers and the communists have been in power ever since.
    • But such a success in the state could not be replicated in other areas like Kerala - the only other state where communists swept to power. The reason lies in corruption and lackadaisical administration. The more radical wing of the CPI, the PWG (People's War Group) or Naxalites resorted to violence as it failed to secure any power in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Even in West Bengal, the economy suffered as a result of the communist economic policies that did little to encourage industries. In the state of Bihar, tensions between land owners milita and the villagers, Maoists have resulted in numerous massacres.
    • In the overal analysis, land reforms have been successful only in pockets of the country, as people have often found ways to subvert any ceilings on the maximum area of land held by any one individuals.
  • Japan: After World War II, the U.S. occupying forces conducted a land reform in Japan.
  • Taiwan: In the years after World War II, Chiang Kai-shek conducted land reform at the insistence of the U.S. This course of action was made possible, in part, by the fact that many of the large landowners were Japanese who had fled and also by the fact that the Kuomintang were mostly from the mainland and had few ties to the remaining indigenous landowners.
  • Vietnam: In the years after World War II, even before the formal division of Vietnam, generally successful and popular land reform boosted the popularity of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, especially when contrasted with failed attempts at land reform in South Vietnam under Ngo Dinh Diem. South Vietnam made several further attempts at land reform in the post-Diem years, the most ambitious being the Land to the Tiller program instituted in 1970 by President Nguyen Van Thieu. This limited individual to 15 hectares, compensated the owners of expropriated tracts, and extended legal title to peasants who in areas under control of the South Vietnamese government to whom had land had previously been distributed by the Viet Cong. Mark Moyar [1996] asserts that while it was effectively implemented only in some parts of the country, "In the Mekong Delta and the provinces around Saigon, the program worked extremely well... It reduced the percentage of total cropland cultivated by tenants from sixty percent to ten percent in three years." [4] (
  • South Korea: In 1945–1950, United States and South Korean authorities carried out a land reform that retained the institution of private property. They confiscated and redistributed all land held by the Japanese colonial government, Japanese companies, and individual Japanese colonists. The Korean government carried out a reform whereby Koreans with large landholdings were obliged to divest most of their land. A new class of independent, family proprietors was created. [5] (

See also


External links


es:Reforma agraria eo:Agra reformo sv:Jordreform


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