1.1 Rural conditions have deteriorated in countries in Central and Eastern Europe and will continue to worsen until the problems are tackled through integrated rural development projects and programmes. The success and sustainability of such projects and programmes will depend to a large extent on how they address the reality of the millions of small and fragmented farm holdings in existence.
1.2 There is growing inequality between rural and urban areas. Much rural infrastructure has deteriorated considerably. Villages are becoming less attractive places in which to live. Schools and other rural public and cultural facilities are suffering from lack of attention. Rural roads are in poor condition, power and water supply systems are less reliable, and communications and media infrastructure is inadequate. There is high unemployment, and migration to urban areas is resulting in a declining and ageing rural population. Agriculture has developed into a dualistic structure of a relatively small number of large-scale farms and many millions of microfarms. There is an almost complete absence of the competitive, commercial family farms that are necessary for todays Europe and a globalising economy, and little is done to encourage people who are capable of creating competitive farms to do so.
1.3 Such potential entrepreneurial farmers are unlikely to invest their time, energy and money if they believe the quality of their life will be unsatisfactory. If the local school does not give children a good education, if local medical facilities are not available, if there are no recreational areas to enjoy on the weekends, if roads make travel difficult and dangerous, and if electricity is often unavailable, those who could be successful commercial farmers may decide to follow a different career if it offers them a better quality of life.
1.4 Migration of potentially successful commercial family farmers from rural areas will result in agricultural production being left increasingly to either very large agricultural enterprises or to those who have no other choice in life: the elderly, the infirm, and those who are too poor to invest in agricultural improvements needed to make existing farms viable. Many owners of microfarms will be forced to withdraw from agriculture because of age or illness, and many of their heirs have no interest in agriculture. A scenario such as this will cause continuing degradation of the rural space and agricultural production will continue to spiral downwards just when it should be becoming stronger to match that of Western Europe.
1.5 To prevent such a situation from occurring, rural development projects and programmes are essential. Integrated rural development initiatives to enhance the quality of life must include improvements to agricultural production, employment, infrastructure, public facilities, housing and the protection of natural resources. In order for such integrated rural development initiatives to increase the attractiveness of rural areas, they must be comprehensive, multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral. Integrated rural development projects must provide a suitable environment for people who want to become successful commercial farmers; they must address the needs of subsistence farmers who currently have no other choice; and they must provide opportunities in the non-agricultural sector. To be successful, such integrated rural development must take into account the land tenure structure which includes vast numbers of small and fragmented farms.
1.6 Land consolidation can be an effective instrument in rural development. Agricultural development is one area in which land consolidation plays a vital role. Land consolidation can facilitate the creation of competitive agricultural production arrangements by enabling farmers to have farms with fewer parcels that are larger and better shaped, and to expand the size of their holdings. But because of the extensive nature of fragmentation and the growing importance of rural space for non-agricultural purposes, land consolidation has become an increasingly important instrument in strategies and projects to enhance the quality of rural life through improving natural resource management and environmental conservation, providing infrastructure and services, creating employment opportunities and ameliorating conditions in villages.
1.7 Land consolidation can be used to improve the tenure structure in support of rural development by addressing land fragmentation. Fragmentation can occur in several ways, for example:
As a fragmented farm, i.e. a farm that comprises a number of parcels located some distance from one another.
As fragmented ownership, i.e. a farmers holding that includes land owned by the farmer as well as land leased from others. The leased land may be owned by a neighbouring farmer or it may involve a case of absentee ownership with the owner living in a distant city.
1.8 Land consolidation can assist farmers to amalgamate their fragmented parcels. For example, a farmer who owns one hectare divided into five parcels may benefit from a consolidation scheme which results in a single parcel. Although the farm size remains the same, a larger and better shaped parcel may allow the farmer to introduce better farming techniques. However, such microfarms are not suitable for most competitive agricultural practices and land consolidation can also provide farmers with opportunities to increase the size of their farms, for example by acquiring land from state land reserves and land banks, or by having access to land of others through sales or improved leasing arrangements. Land consolidation projects should result in the amalgamation of fragmented parcels but they should also include other appropriate measures to establish an improved tenure structure that supports rural development. The emphasis of such projects should be on providing practical and needed solutions to problems faced by farmers and other residents of rural areas.
1.9 Land consolidation projects should support attempts to make agriculture more competitive, for example through the promotion of commercially viable family farms. However, a goal of establishing medium-sized commercial farms may take a number of years to achieve and so land consolidation projects may have to support other farming models, such as part-time farming that combines market-oriented production with nonagricultural sources of income, as well as subsistence farming for those who have no other alternatives.
1.10 Land consolidation projects will result in substantial changes in land tenure arrangements and these actions are executed under the leadership of a state entity. Nonetheless, land consolidation is not a form of expropriation, either fully or partly. This is especially important in Central and Eastern Europe since changes to land tenure were at the heart of the establishment of the earlier socialist regimes and the subsequent transition to democratic market economies. Land consolidation schemes should not dispossess people of their rights to land. It may offer opportunities for land owners to sell their land to others but this should be done willingly. Land consolidation should not result in making people landless. Instead it should enable all land owners to benefit, and this should take priority over benefits to the state. For this to happen, active participation of farmers and other rural residents in the process is essential.
1.11 A number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe have expressed interest in introducing land consolidation programmes to improve rural livelihoods and the use of rural space. While systematic, comprehensive land consolidation may be the long-term goal of a country, there is a more immediate need for knowledge on starting land consolidation activities. This guide aims to show what should be considered in initial land consolidation pilot projects and in the development of a strategy to move from pilot projects to an ongoing programme.
1.12 The guide is intended primarily to support land administrators in agencies responsible for the technical design and implementation of land consolidation projects in transition countries. Its contents may also be relevant to national decision-makers and those in ministries responsible for preparing legislation and development programmes. Those in the donor community and in non-governmental organizations who work in broader rural development programmes may also find the information to be useful. In addition, the guide may encourage and help farmers in their efforts to understand the complexity of the issue and to form a better understanding of the land consolidation process.
1.13 The guide starts by showing why land consolidation should be considered within agricultural and rural development policies and programmes. It describes the essential elements of land consolidation and how it can be introduced in different situations. Carrying out a pilot project is an effective way to lay the foundation for a larger, long-term land consolidation programme. The guide identifies what rules would be needed to govern responsibilities and procedures during the pilot, and describes actions that will have to be taken to start the project.
1.14 Because pilot projects will be limited to a few communities, the guide presents some examples of actions that could be taken by the state to provide an environment that supports voluntary initiatives to consolidate parcels and enlarge holdings. Pilot projects and other initiatives will provide valuable information as to what should be incorporated in a long-term programme of land consolidation. The guide identifies areas in which the experiences and results of initial activities should be reviewed and evaluated in order to provide insights for the design of a long-term land consolidation programme.