188.8.131.52 Systems of Land Ownership
The system of land ownership regulates the relationship of
the people to the land, specifically the power of disposition
over land and the right to use the land. As it is practically
impossible, on the one hand, to increase the amount of land
while, on the other hand, it is the basis of agrarian production,
living, and recreation, in other words, the basis of existence
for a rural society, the amount of land controlled and the
type of distribution determine the social conditions. Rights
in land bring with them work and income, prestige, and influence.
Anyone without rights in land is dependent in an agrarian
society. He is forced to work on someone else's land in order
to earn his livelihood.
There are two forms of rights to the land-the right of disposition
over the land and the right to use the land. The owner has
the right of disposition. He has the right to decide whether
to sell, lease, bequeath, give away, or lend, etc. a piece
of land. The occupier has the right to use the land.This right
legulates the cultivation of the land. In the case of an owner-cultivated
family farm, the family has both the right of disposition
as well as of use. A tenant, in contrast, has no right of
disposition over his land but can only use it.
On the Question of Land Ownership
Private ownership of land is a Western concept that was first
introduced into many developing countries by Europeans. It
arose under a specific legal order by original acquisitioning
of land (occupying and making the land arable) or changes
in ownership (conquest, contract, inheritance). Until today,
some societies have still not developed any forms of personal,
private rights to land that would grant a right of disposition.
Instead, the individual is allotted land for his own usage
that reverts to the hands of the group (tribe) as soon as
it is no longer used.
It is not unusual that laws governing the land exist at several
levels, e. g., government laws and traditional tribal laws.
If a conflict arises between these two levels, it leads to
considerable breakdowns and obstructions in the legal guarantees
and, thus, the usage of the land.
The question of the private ownership of land is strongly
affected by the ideological point of view. On the one land,
it is argued that the owner's interest in his land turns 'sand
into gold." In contrast to this argument is the experience
that especially increasing population pressure has fairly
often resulted in the economically weak losing their land
and that the land has become concentrated in the hands of
a few people. According to the socialistic viewpoint, private
ownership of the production factor land has led to exploitation
and should, therefore, be abolished.
Practical experience has shown that agricultural and social
development are possible with or without private ownership
of land. A recent tendency in the industrial countries has
been to stress the farm unit and its preservation while the
significance of land ownership is diminishing.
Land becomes property by the state (tribe, clan, etc,) guaranteeing
an. individual this right to a scarce factor and, thus, warranting
him the possibility of harvesting the fruits of his labour
in the production process. Property rights, in other words,
are granted to the individual by the society and always include
certain limitations. Such restrictions and/or obligations
are imposed upon the owner by custom, private rights, or public
law. Among these are, e.g. , the obligation to maintain and
expand the farm, creditors' claims, rights of access and transit,
services, taxes, market regulations, etc.
In developing countries, landed property is usually bequeathed
by parcelling it among the children. If the farm is passed
on to one heir, a practice in parts of Europe, it guarantees
the existence and survival of the farm; however, it also presupposes
alternative possibilities for the remaining heirs to earn
a livelihood , a precondition that is frequently not present
in such countries. A son sometimes receives a larger share
under the condition that he has to take care of his parents,
or sons receive larger shares than daughters. When the farms
become so small that they are no longer profitable, the children
sometimes operate the farm together and only split the yield.
Usually, the traditional form of passing on the farm results
in it becoming smaller with each generation, even if this
is sometimes balanced out by the women's dowries. If job opportunities
are not created outside the agricultural sector, it cannot
fail to result in a drop in the standard of living among the
rural population as soon as all of the land is taken under
Types of Land Ownership
Various systems of land ownership have developed throughout
the world under the influence of historical, cultural, and
economic factors. These systems are exposed to a continual
process of change.
State Ownership of Land
As a consequence of conquest, purchasing, gifts, and seizure,
land belongs to the state in many countries in the same way
as other areas belong to private people. In the USSR, the
majority of the land has been turned into state property.In
other socialist countries, only a part until now. This was
done to prevent exploitation resulting form private ownership
of the land as well as unearned income derived from ground
rent. Otherwise, state ownership plays a large role if public
interests cannot be satisfied by private ownership, or if
the land is not of interest to private people from an economic
standpoint (catchment areas, waste land, forest, frontiers,
experimental farms, etc,). The state partially cultivates
its own land (government farms, government forests) and also
partially leases it out. In some countries, the church likewise
has a great deal of landed property. The process by which
the church gained possession of the land and its function
is similar to that in the case of state land.
In Islamic countries, land is granted to schools, ,mosques,
orphanages, and similar institutions. This type of grant is
often called a "waqf." The beneficiary receives
an irrevocable right of use that is carried out by government
organizations, generally in the form of being leased out.
The institution that is granted the right of use receives
the profit. The lands are frequently in very bad condition
as hardly any investments are made.
Land is sometimes established as a private waqf. The irrevocability
of the grant, that is established in court, prevents eventual
changes in ownership and protects the family against property
losses. The family receives the income derived from the yield.
This type of grant is also found in the south of Europe and
existed in Eastern Germany until 1945 where it was called
Collective and Communal Ownership
In this type of ownership, the right of disposition is in
the hands of kinship or political groups that are larger than
a single family. In the forms of communal ownership found
in Africa (a widespread phenomenon south, of the Sahara),
the land rights are generally controlled by the tribe, and
the use of the land is regulated by the chieftain or priest
serving the land and earth deities. Every member that is born
into the group has a lifelong right to a piece of land for
his own usage. The tribes regard themselves as custodians
of the land for future generations rather than proprietors.
In Mexico, former latifundia were transferred into a form
of communal. land called "ejido." The members of
the community are granted land on a heritable basis for their
usage, while pasture land and waste land are used commonly.
In various countries such as Taiwan, India, and Jamaica, land
belongs to minorities in the form of common land. The purpose
behind this is to give protection against loss of the land.
In socialistic countries, land was collectivized in accordance
with the political doctrine in order to prevent exploitation
resulting from private ownership of land. At the same time,
this measure simplifies controlling agricultural production
and the process of adapting to the goals of rapid industrialization
and overall development.Based on a different ideology, but
with similar motives, various religious communities have also
abolished private ownership of land and collectivized it.
Physical and/or psychological coercion and pressure or a critical
situation have always played a great role in collectivization.
Private Ownership of Land
In non-socialistic countries, the right of disposition is
often in private hands regarding agricultural land, less so
in the case of forests. In face of the positive experience
in European history and its great ability to adapt to changing
economic and technological systems, private ownership of land
was introduced in many of the former colonies. In the process,
however, it became obvious that the positive outgrowth of
private ownership were dependent upon certain specific preconditions
that were not always present. The decrease in the size of
the farms resulting from population increase and the differences
in the success achieved in the process of adaption to changing
conditions especially of an economic nature led in part to
property losses, whereas other people were able to gain control
of large areas and, thus, economic and consequently political
power. As a result of this process, today there are several
widely differing forms of private ownership.
Small scale agricultural property, or smallholdings,
is a widespread form throughout the world and is the target
of most of the non socialistic agrarian reforms. Family farms
have proved to be an expedient form of agricultural organization,
both regarding agrarian production as well as the social conditions,
as long as the farm size is large enough. The incentive ensuing
from the farmers freedom to make his own decisions and the
knowledge that he will receive the fruits of all his labour
and investments have always been a tremendous inducement,
especially if the attitude towards work and investments was
positive and the concomitant institutions (extension services,
credit system) were advantageous. In order for family farms
to guarantee the continuation of yields from their land, it
is necessary for them to observe the preservation of the ecological
balance. As soon as the precondition of sufficient farm size
no longer exists, the situation becomes less favourable and
the living standard of the farmers' families drops, the farms
become indebted, property is lost, and the ecological balance
Large holdings are in many cases not farmed
by the owner himself. If there is a large demand for land,
the owner is in a position to let others work for him and
still receive a sufficient income. He, therefore, leases the
land out, and, although he exercises his influence regarding
farm management, this is more to control the farm rent payments
than to foster agricultural production. The rent is usually
not reinvested, but rather used by the owner to cover his
own living expenses as well as other purposes. Thus landed
property becomes a source of rent while the agricultural economy
As soon as the owner becomes more interested in the cultivation
of his land, he generally switches to centrally controlled
farming as this makes it possible to control the cropping
vote closely and, thus, guarantee economic success. This form
is not only found on plantations and commercial farms. In
the course of the Green Revolution, many former lessors started
cultivating the land themselves as this appeared to them to
be more profitable under the new circumstances than the traditional
forms of leasing the land to tenants.
An increasing population, while at the same time the job
opportunities outside the agriculture) sector develop only
slowly, has barred a growing number of people to look for
land that they can rent from someone for their usage for a
period of time. In densely settled countries with private
land ownership, in some cases more than half of the land is
cropped today by tenants. One can differentiate between various
forms of renting the land according to the type of payment
that is demanded.
Occupational tenancy: in way of payment,
the tenant works for a specific number of days on the landlord's
farm in order to pay for the land he rents. In some cases,
he uses his own draught animals and implements. This form,
is particularly found in Latin America where it is called
a colonate. Until a few years ago, it also
existed in Westphalia, Germany, under the name, Heuerling.
In the case of cash tenancy, the tenant
pays a fixed rent for the land he rents and, thus, bears the
full cropping and marketing risk himself; however, he also
receives all the proceeds growing out of his labours. This
form demands the ability to face a risk and is, thus, found
in the case of tenants who are economically sound.
Rent in kind is a form of tenancy in which
the tenant pays a fixed quantity of produce and, therefore,
does not have to take the marketing risk himself. This form
is found especially among landowners who rent out small parcels
of land and who consume the rent in their own household.
Share tenancy is a specific form of rent
in kind. It is widely spread, particularly in the developing
countries. In this case, the gross output is divided between
the landlord and tenant. While the original size of the share
was determined by the reciprocal obligations and the productivity
of the land, the great demand for land has led increasingly
to shares equalling 50/50. Under these conditions, each side
receives only half of any proceeds resulting from additional
inputs. There is little incentive, therefore, to increase
productivity by means of working harder or making larger investments.
Moreover, the contract is often drawn up for only one year.
Even though it is often prolonged by tacit agreement, it leads
to insecurity and a state of dependence. This has, along with
the normally extremely small size of the plots under tenancy,
resulted in many farmers being indebted and living in very
poor economic and social conditions.
Although tenancy can fundamentally bring about flexibility
in the structure of land ownership and allows making adaptions
to changing economic and social (family) conditions, under
the circumstances in the developing countries (with a one
sided advantageous position on the market for land available
for tenancy in favour of the landlords), tenancy leads to
stagnating agricultural production, dependence, and an economically
poor situation for the tenants and their families.