Participation People

Towards sustainable food security

Recent FAO experiences in land reform and land tenure

Prepared by the Land Tenure Service (SDAA)
FAO Rural Development Division

LAND POLICIES AND LAND REFORMS are usually part of broader economic and political spectrum. In this respect, FAO's assistance to member countries in the 1970s and '80s was framed by their economic and political situation. Member states' agricultural policies during that period were mainly characterized by the protection of the agricultural sector through protected markets, controlled prices, subsidized agricultural services and inputs, state intervention and regulations to protect the markets, and land immobility through agrarian reform regulations that discouraged investments.

During this period, agrarian reform was envisaged as a land policy to facilitate access to land and development in the rural sector. It was agreed that through agrarian reform, a more equitable distribution of land would be achieved, and agricultural production would be raised as a result of a wider and more efficient participation of rural producers in agriculture.

The results of agrarian reform have been argued in different academic and technical forums. In general it has been agreed that agrarian reform, as conceived from the 1960s to the '80's, has proved unsuccessful for several reasons:

From its long and wide-ranging involvement in agrarian reform experiences in member nations, FAO has learned three clear and vital lessons. First, any process of political and/or economic reform requires corresponding agrarian reforms. If not, the incongruence between new economic and political practices and previous land holding and property regimes will inevitably engender dysfunctionalities.

Second, governments or agrarian systems must possess the economic resources to provide full financial compensation for all land that is redistributed through an agrarian reform process. If not, any agrarian reform policy will collapse for one or two reasons: either the original holders of the land will develop strategies for blocking the appropriation of their land, or the recipients of the land will be unable to utilize the land economically.

Third, agrarian reform requires accompanying institutional reforms. Without them, existing institutional systems and procedures will be unable to absorb the new demands and functionality of the reformed agrarian system.

New trends

With the adoption of structural adjustment measures, and in the context of political and economic liberalization from the end of the 1980s, the role of the state has been drastically reduced in many countries. In the agricultural sector, this has meant reduction of state participation in the provision of agricultural services, protection of rural markets and price controls, and the elimination of subsidies. At the same time, market liberalization policies call for the development of a more efficient and competitive agriculture, and thus more secure access to resources and sustainable use.

A new agrarian reform in this framework has to envisage both the need to fill the institutional vacuum left by the reduction of state participation, and the need to develop efficient and productive agricultural alternatives for rural producers. In this respect, land reform must involve the development of a comprehensive institutional framework that ensures rights and security.

Lessons learned from the past demonstrate that land reform approaches nowadays should not only target landless groups, but become an instrument to strengthen economic and productive potentialities of agricultural producers that have been constrained by land tenure arrangements and institutional constraints.

Therefore, it should be a priority for land reforms to remove obstacles that discourage or inhibit farmer investment in their land. A comprehensive set of rules and a legal framework, as well as the clarification of individual rights, land regularization and land titling, are seen as important mechanisms to ensure security and favour producers' investment in the agriculture.

Land tenure and legal reforms must respect and reflect the immense diversity of land transactions that take place in the rural sector. Farmers must have access to a wide range of land tenure options that could allow them to respond strategically and effectively to changing conditions, opportunities, and external environmental constraints.

It is in the interest of governments to develop and consolidate strong alliances with social groups in order to gather support for reforms. The creation of coalitions and the participation of rural producers and target groups, are important mechanisms for creating alliances and building consensus.

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