Gender and Land Rights Database


In 2007, the country’s estimated population was 59 619 290, out of which 30 669 543 were female and 28 949 747 were male (1). Population density was 195.4 people per square kilometre (2). The rural population accounted for 32.1 percent of the total and the urban population comprised the remaining 67.9 percent. From 2005–2010, the rural population growth rate has been estimated at -0.3 percent per year and the urban population growth rate has been estimated at 0.4 percent per year (2). In 2006, the economically active population was 48.50 percent of the total, of which women accounted for 37.7 percent and men for 60.2 percent (3).
In 2007, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was US$2 095 141 million and per capita GDP was estimated at US$35 585 (2). The same year, GDP annual growth was 1.5 percent (2). In 2004, the agricultural sector accounted for 2.6 percent of GDP, 7 percent of exports and 4 percent of the total labour force (4). In 2007 the entire agro-industrial system, including agriculture, the food industry and catering and technical means of production, such as fertilizers and fodder, contributed 15.7 percent of GDP. The value added of agriculture was 12 percent (5). The major agricultural production items are grapes, cow milk and olives (4) and the major agricultural exports are wine, which accounted for 14.5 percent of total agricultural exports in 2004, and virgin olive oil, which accounted for 6.8 percent. (4). Eighty-six percent of farms have specialized production (5). The country is the leader in Europe for biological agriculture with over 1.1 million devoted hectares and more than 45 000 farms. Also with 172 Protected Destination of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) products, the country has the richest basket in Europe, accounting for 21 percent of the total. Products include vegetables [32.5 percent], virgin olive oil [22.4 percent], cheese [19.5 percent] and cold cuts [17 percent] (5). The majority of agricultural sector holdings are under direct management with a labour force drawn almost exclusively from the families (6). In 2006, 78.5 percent of total agricultural labour days were provided by family members (5).

With a Human Development Index (HDI) value of 0.945 in 2006, the country ranks 19th out of the 179 countries for which HDI was measured (7). In 2007, those living below the national poverty line included 2 427 million people, 4.1 percent of the total population, 975 000 households and 4.1 percent of total residing families. The national poverty line was set by computing the monthly cost of the basket of food and services necessary for a household to have an acceptable living standard within the national context. The poverty line varies depending on the number of household members, the age composition of the household, the geographic setting and the size of the municipality to which the household belongs. The incidence of families living below the national poverty line is twice as high in the south and the islands as in other parts of the country, with 5.8 percent of households living below the national poverty line there as opposed to 3.5 percent in the north and 2.9 percent in the centre. Among female-headed households, 4.9 percent live under the poverty line; of those, 55 percent are aged women living alone and 21 percent are single mothers with children. Also, 6.6 percent of people aged 65 and over living alone are below the national poverty line (8). Between 2001 and 2003, the undernourished population was less than 2.5 percent of the total (9). The adult literacy rate in 2005 was 98 percent for women and 98.8 percent for men aged 15 and older (3).The same year, life expectancy at birth was estimated at 77.2 years for men and 83.2 years for women (3).

In 2006, 3.3 percent of the total female labour force was employed in agriculture, accounting for 26 percent of full-time workers and 66.3 percent of part-time ones (5). Although the overall number of people employed in agriculture declined between the 1990 and 2000 agricultural censuses, the proportion of women grew from 35.8 percent to 36.7 percent. Women who work in agriculture are generally over 35 years of age, married with children and have less instruction than women working in other sectors. In fact, 36.5 percent of them attended only elementary school, as compared with 9.4 of other working women; 16.6 percent have a high school diploma and only 1.7 percent of them have a university degree. Two out of ten rural women are foreigners: 49.2 percent come from European countries, mostly mid-eastern European ones, and 20 percent are from African countries (10). Of the total number of women farmers, 28.7 percent are self-employed and 58.1 percent are wage labourers. The number of women who have supporting roles is still high: more than 10 percent of them back their husbands’ activities. Despite their complementary role, women in agriculture are pivotal to the social fabric of their families and farms. Women have relevant roles in other ancillary activities such as agrotourism, direct sale of farm produce, local transportation services and domestic aid (10).

The country covers an area of 301 132 square kilometres, out of which 146 940 are agricultural land. Arable land represents 52.7 percent of agricultural land (14). Irrigated land represented 34.55 percent of arable land in 2003 (4). In 2000, there were 2.5 million agricultural, zoo-technical and forestry holdings covering 19.6 million hectares; 13.2 million hectares were used as farming area. This results in a utilized agricultural area (UAA) per farm of about 5 hectares, compared with a European average of 18.4 hectares; Italy’s UAA is the lowest in Europe with the exception of Greece (6). Even with considerable regional differentiation, small holdings continue to be predominant. Forty-five percent of holdings have less than 1 hectare of UAA. Holdings with more than 20 hectares of UAA account for only 4.6 percent of the total surface and 54.8 percent of the UAA. This enormous fragmentation is a historical legacy from Italian agriculture, especially in the southern regions (6).

Article 44 of the Constitution envisages legislation to regulate and fix size limits for private land ownership, to transform the latifondo, or large estates, and to provide assistance to small-scale and medium-scale holders. On the basis of this Article, vast agrarian legislation has been enacted. A land redistribution programme was undertaken in the 1950s to redistribute latifondo land, mainly in the south, through land expropriation and allocation to farmers by public bodies – Enti di riforma. The distribution of the land of Sila covered over 45 000 hectares, 5 000 new small properties and not fewer than 20 000 farmers. In addition, two decrees, No. 114 and 121, were adopted in 1948 to stimulate land transfers through fiscal and financial incentives. Overall, the reform has resulted in a substantial change in the land ownership structure. Under the land redistribution programme, eligible beneficiaries were rural workers who were either landless or owners of land insufficient for the labour force of their household. Land allocation was made through sale contracts between the Ente di riforma and the beneficiary, who was to pay a price over a 30-year period. In the great majority of cases, these contracts were signed by male household heads. In the case of the death of the beneficiary before payment of the whole price, specific succession rules applied: the contract was inherited by the descendants and the spouse inherited only if there were no descendants (11).

Women can acquire, own and administer property under the same conditions as men. In 2008, women led 263 041 agricultural businesses, which accounted for 29.2 percent of the 901 059 total agricultural enterprises and 18.4 percent of the 1.4 million female-run businesses (12). Despite having 5 000 fewer farms than in 2007 – a 1.9 percent decrease – the country remains the leader in the European Union (EU) in having female entrepreneurs in agriculture (13). The concentration of female-run agricultural undertakings is higher in the south, where they comprise 63.9 percent of all farms; some exceptions exist in some northern regions, such as Valle d’Aosta [44.7 percent] and Liguria [42.5 percent]. Women farmers aged 40–59 own 45.2 percent of the UAA of all female-run farms (10). Female agricultural entrepreneurs have higher levels of instruction as their farm size grows. More than 20 percent of managers are college graduates in the farms larger than 100 hectares. Of the female holders, 9.5 percent turn to leasehold to enlarge the area of their farms and improve the management. While 18.3 percent of total farm area is rented, over 30 percent of the lands managed by women are rented (10). Compared with the past, more women turn to farming as a result of a professional choice and invest in their holdings.

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography