3.1 Land consolidation is sometimes incorrectly interpreted to be only the simple reallocation of parcels to remove effects of fragmentation. In reality, land consolidation has been associated with broader social and economic reforms from the time of its earliest applications in Western Europe. The first consolidation initiatives of Denmark in the 1750s were part of a profound social reform to free people from obligations to noble landlords by establishing privately-owned family farms. The consolidation of fragmented holdings did result in improved agricultural productivity but this was not the only objective of these reforms. This chapter illustrates the wide range of rural development objectives, ranging from agricultural improvement to village renewal and landscape development and protection, which can be addressed through land consolidation projects. It describes various land consolidation approaches and concludes with an overview of conditions that should be put in place before land consolidation projects can be undertaken.
3.2 Land consolidation has always been regarded as an instrument or entry point for rural development. Early concepts of rural development were virtually the same as agricultural development because of the predominant role of agriculture in rural areas at the time. Improving the agrarian structure was viewed as being identical to maintaining the social viability in rural areas; what was good for the farmers was good for rural areas. An overall objective of early projects was thus to increase the net income from land holdings by increasing the volume of production and decreasing its costs. With this focus on agricultural development, these projects served to consolidate parcels and enlarge holdings and included provisions such as irrigation and drainage infrastructure to improve water management, construction of rural roads, land levelling, soil improvement measures and changes to land use such as converting agriculturally inferior land into forest land or wetlands.
3.3 Such agricultural improvements are still essential but rural space is now no longer regarded as one of agricultural production alone. Concepts of rural development have become much broader and have expanded to include increased environmental awareness and a wide range of nonagricultural applications. The emphasis of land consolidation projects has shifted from a focus on restructuring agriculture to one of achieving more efficient multiple use of rural space by balancing the interests of agriculture, landscape, nature conservation, recreation and transportation, especially when land is required for the construction of major roads.
3.4 Environmental conditions are being given increasing priority. Roads are being constructed to suit the landscape. Water bodies are being restored, often with buffer zones. Land consolidation projects are also used for the protection of wetlands and to change land use patterns especially in areas endangered by frequent floods or soil erosion.
3.5 Land consolidation now encompasses activities of village renewal. Projects include providing adequate land for new houses and workplaces to improve living and working conditions. Along with the changing rural economy, buildings previously used for agriculture are renovated and converted to other social and commercial uses.
3.6 In line with other changes in the concept of rural development, land consolidation now places increasing importance on gender inclusion, participatory approaches and the use of mediation and alternative dispute resolution in resolving conflicts.
3.7 Land consolidation projects have also served to modernise tenure arrangements by eliminating outdated rights of use, including some rights of access, grazing, hay-making, timber-felling, fishing and boating, and the extraction of peat, clay and sand.
3.8 In early consolidation projects the resettlement of farmers was often considered important. Family farmsteads, originally placed in old established villages, were resettled at the external perimeter of the consolidation project area. As access to motor vehicles became more widely available, travelling from village to field was easier and modern villages became viewed as more suitable for retaining the rural population than isolated farmsteads. In some cases, farming families were moved from congested areas to more distant zones, often with considerable reluctance. Such resettlements are less likely to be a feature of land consolidation in transition countries since rural areas are not overly congested and, in contrast, their populations are declining. However, there may be occasions where farmers spend more time travelling between fields than working the land and resettlement may be a solution if families are willing to relocate.
3.9 The most effective consolidation instrument of rural development is comprehensive land consolidation but at times other approaches such as simplified consolidation, voluntary group consolidation, and individual consolidation initiatives can bring benefits. This section provides an overview of these different approaches.
3.10 Comprehensive land consolidation includes the re-allocation of parcels together with a broad range of other measures to promote rural development. Examples of such activities include village renewal, support to community-based agro-processing, construction of rural roads, construction and rehabilitation of irrigation and drainage systems, erosion control measures, environmental protection and improvements including the designation of nature reserves, and the creation of social infrastructure including sports grounds and other public facilities.
3.11 Procedures for land consolidation projects vary from one country to another but they generally involve the initiation of the project, design of the project, inventory of existing land rights and land values, elaboration of the detailed consolidation plan showing the new parcel layout, implementation of the plan, and finally a concluding phase in which final records are produced. Box 3 lists typical steps.
1. Initiation of the land consolidation project.
2. Design of the project.
3. Inventory of the existing situation.
4. Elaboration of the detailed land consolidation plan.
5. Implementation of the detailed consolidation plan.
6. Concluding phase.
3.12 The allocation of responsibilities for carrying out these steps also varies between jurisdictions. There is usually a clear division between responsibility for overall supervision, control and monitoring functions, and responsibility for implementation. The responsibilities for the supervising agency should be defined in legislation. One of the first considerations in proposing a land consolidation pilot project is determining the roles and responsibilities of the various parties. This matter is further elaborated in chapter 4.
3.13 Comprehensive land consolidation projects usually have extensive public works and so they require the participation of a large number of central government agencies such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Justice, Cadastre offices, Registry offices, Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Rural Development.
3.14 With the trend towards decentralisation, projects increasingly involve local and regional governments, municipalities, water boards or water associations. These bodies are usually prepared to play active roles and to cover part of the costs.
3.15 The participation of farmers groups and other representatives of civil society have always been considered necessary but, along with the importance attributed to participatory development, their involvement is becoming greater and is occurring at the earliest stages of the process.
3.16 Comprehensive land consolidation projects introduce major changes throughout the project site, and they generally require the participation of all owners in the project area. In many countries land owners can be drawn into a project against their will. People may be required to participate even if they oppose the project as long as they will not lose as a result of it. The success of a project thus depends to a great extent on the initial steps taken to obtain the support and cooperation of farmers and other stakeholders who would be affected by the project.
3.17 Information and communication is essential. People must understand how they will benefit from the project and how the changes will impact on them. Providing information on the financing of the project, including who will contribute to financing, is important as it influences opinions of farmers. Providing information on the benefits of the project is equally important. Failure to communicate effectively results in misunderstanding and even misleading rumours. Negative views that are needlessly caused usually result in more difficult negotiations, delays and higher implementation costs. Information must be tailored to the knowledge and attitudes of different groups of stakeholders such as farmers and other residents of the area, and politicians at the local, regional and national level.
3.18 Because there are so many competing interests of the various stakeholders, objections may be raised regarding the initial inventory of ownership, boundaries and values of parcels, and in the preparation of the detailed consolidation plan showing the re-allocation of parcels. The role of mediation in resolving some of these disputes is becoming increasingly important.
3.19 A traditional principle has been that an owner should not be worse off after consolidation than before it. Projects often aim at ensuring that an owners holding after consolidation is equal in value to the original holding; if the value of the holding is smaller after consolidation, equivalency can be achieved by paying financial compensation. From one perspective, if a farmer received poorer quality land after consolidation, the amount of land allocated should be suitably larger than the original holding to ensure equivalency. The development of transparent rules defining the natural yield potential of land can be important in defining values. However, soil quality is not the only factor in valuation and the value of a parcel can be affected by its position relative to other parcels, roads, farm buildings and homesteads. Equal value is thus not only a question of soil values but includes all factors that have a substantial impact on the use of the land.
3.20 The principle of equivalency may be difficult to apply in practice, particularly when topographic conditions limit the arrangement of new parcels. Even where land is not irrigated, variations in water conditions and supplies can have a considerable influence on the location of farms and the arrangement of parcels. The existence of vines and fruit trees further adds to the complications of ensuring equivalency. These valuation problems are usually overcome by including farmers respected by community members in the land valuation teams or committees along with valuation experts.
3.21 Instead of merely maintaining the same value after a project, land consolidation offers the opportunity for some owners to enlarge their holdings. This may be done as other farmers choose to exit from agricultural activities. In some systems, a farmer participating in a project may be bought out completely or partially to provide additional land for consolidation purposes. Land banks are also used to allow farmers to increase their holdings and to cover requests for land for public facilities such as new roads, recreational sites and ecological protection areas. The transfer of state land reserves to a land bank should be addressed in a national land consolidation strategy. Privatisation of land could take place through land consolidation projects and a land bank could buy land in other areas for specific purposes of future projects and to provide alternative land for compensation for land used for public facilities, etc.
3.22 Some systems place limits or restrictions on rights during the project. For example, owners and tenants may not be allowed to make changes which affect the property values without authorisation after the valuation inventory has started.
3.23 Ensuring that the project is cost-effective is crucial. Geographic information systems and satellite positioning systems are now routinely used to reduce time and costs of surveying and planning. Several countries have developed semi-automated systems for use in designing the new layout of reallocated parcels.
3.24 Project management is important in order for the project to keep to budgeted costs and the time schedule, to maintain rapport with participants, and to ensure the legitimacy of all decisions and actions. Technical management skills are also important as huge amounts of data are collected and used.
3.25 Simplified land consolidation. Some countries have introduced simplified versions of consolidation. Simplified land consolidation optimises conditions in the agricultural sector through the re-allocation or exchange of parcels, and the provision of additional lands from land banks. These simplified projects are often combined with the rehabilitation of infrastructure and sometimes the provision of minor facilities. They do not include the construction of major public works, but they can provide the framework for their construction at a later stage. Procedures for simplified land consolidation projects tend to follow those of comprehensive projects but some of the requirements may be relaxed.
3.26 Voluntary group consolidation. Some countries provide for mutual agreement with no element of compulsion. As consolidation is entirely voluntary, all participants must agree fully with the proposed project. As a result, voluntary projects tend to be small, and voluntary consolidation tends to be best suited to address small and localised problems. In some countries, voluntary projects usually have fewer than ten participants but in Denmark almost all land consolidation projects are carried out in a completely voluntary process and are typically based on negotiations with about 50 land owners, although some projects have involved about 100 participants.
3.27 Individual consolidation. Consolidation of holdings can take place on an informal and sporadic basis. The state is not directly involved and so these initiatives do not include the provision of public facilities. However, the state can play a significant role in encouraging consolidations that improve agriculture by promoting instruments such as joint land use agreements, leasing and retirement schemes. Chapter 5 provides more information on how the state can provide a supportive environment to encourage transactions.
3.28 A number of conditions should be in place before a land consolidation project can be undertaken. Stakeholders should be willing to participate actively in the decision-making process of a project. The process should be demand-driven and a project site must be identified where local citizens and community authorities are interested in land consolidation. For the project to be most effective, reallocation of land parcels will need to be consistent with the rural development and agricultural sector strategy, and the protection of natural resources. A land bank is very important in a comprehensive land consolidation programme but it should not be considered to be a prerequisite for a pilot project. However, the site selected for the pilot project should have adequate supplies of land owned by the state or local government that can be used for exchanges, to enlarge holdings and to locate public facilities. While specific land consolidation legislation may not be needed for a pilot project, appropriate legislation must exist to provide a legal basis for the project. These conditions may not exist and so may have to be developed. Chapter 4 describes in more detail what would need to be in place for a pilot project.