A brief look at the essential problems with which the agrarian structure and agrarian reforms in South Asia have to deal today should orientate itself on the priorities in the rural and agricultural development in this region. Even if this is a subjective viewpoint, it seems that three tasks should be given utmost priority within the framework of rural development in South Asia.

Increasing agricultural production

The chronic shortage of food in South Asia not only brought misery to many people but was also considerably detrimental to the development process on account of import requirements and the resulting dependencies. Even if, at the moment, India has solved her most crucial problems after a few good harvests and with the help of the technological changes which took place in the last years, one should be aware that the supply situation is still unstable. One or two insufficient amounts of rainfall during the monsoon can completely change the picture. The higher costs of farm inputs as a result of the increases in the price of petrolem are very likely to influence the capacity of agriculture to produce foodstuffs at reasonable prices. Moreover, the large population increase and the growing income, not for the whole of the population, it is true, but for large groups, causes demand effects, especially for high quality foodstuffs.

Better utilization of rural labour

Increased production may be able to make an insufficient supply of food disappear from national statistics, but It does not suffice to guarantee the supply of food for the whole population. It brings food onto the market but not into the houses of the poor people who lack money to buy this food. Their poverty is primarily the result of the lack of job opportunities which world give them an income and, thus, purchasing power. Because non agricultural job opportunities grow only very slowly and the population increases constantly, as many people as possible have to find employment in agriculture. It is true that there are limits in that sector, but they are far from having been reached. Institutional factors prevent, first and foremost, more labour from being employed in agriculture. The same applies to opportunities for employing people who are not needed in agricultural production for developing the infrastructure.

More social and economic equality for the rural population

The present unequal distibution of economic and political power is not only responsible for the unbalanced participation of the population in development until now, and for widening the gap between the poor and the rich in the rural areas. This process led to a polarization of the social groups which annihilates the prospects of cooperation in efforts towards achieving economic and social development. But only on the basis of more equality would it be possible to create the political climate in which incentives to increase production and employment can be achieved and maintained.

The three above mentioned priorities for rural development in South Asia are not goals which exclude each other, but which are compatible if the institutional preconditions exist. However, these preconditions, just as agricultural production, employment of labour, and equality, are strongly marked by the agrarian structure. The agrarian structure and the changes made in it will determine whether and how far development will be achieved to the benefit of the whole rural population. This raises the question of the necessary agrarian reform.

Land ownership reform should be mentioned first. Even if there has been considerable redistribution of land, especially in India, quite a lot remains to be done. However, the emphasis is laid less on the real redistribution of landed property. There are no "appropriate" farm sizes for all agricultural functions. The distribution of the power of disposition over means of production of whatever kind and the severance of landed property from economic and political power are more significant than land redistribution in the old style.

Increasing agricultural productivity, at first regarding area, and then labour, will steadily become more important than land redistribution. This will raise the question of the social organization in agriculture and of the organization of the farm units. The agrarian organization which is required is one which

  • encourages a combination of production factors which is compatible with their availability and with the costs
  • creates incentives for productive labour performance, capital formation, and investments and this for all the members of the rural society.

To create the preconditions for this will be the major task for the agrarian structure and agrarian reform policy in the future. This includes access to the necessary services for everyone so that everybody can contribute towards the objective of increasing production. There is no doubt that this will not be possible alone on the basis of the existing service institutions but requires the development of new organization forms. In this connection, small farmer, tenant, and agricultural labourer associations which support their interests against other groups are also important.

Moreover, the agrarian structure must be changed in such a way that incentives for labour performance and investment develop for all the various groups among the rural population. Until now, such incentives have been mostly individually beneficial for a limited stratum of people. It should be examined how incentives could be developed for the other members of agrarian societies and whether they can be orientated towards group interests and benefits. Thus, for example, capital formation functions on individual farms, but, at the village or regional level, where family relations no longer exist, problems crop up. Is it possible to create organization forms which would allow the underemployed to be employed in developing the infrastructure or allow the absorption of surpluses in order to develop non- agricultural enterprises?

An organization of agriculture which allows an increased labour input can also include the integration of animal husbandry on the farms and, thereby, simultaneously improve income and food. The question of appropriate organization forms is still unanswered.

Finally, the question arises as to whether changing conditions, especially the growing population pressure, do wt necessitate a change in the systems and in the organization of land management. Until now, in South Asia, cooperation has prevailed in agriculture, primarily in the services. The success, however, varied. Can success also be achieved through cooperation in production? One can imagine that forms of joint land management and animal husbandry could bring new aspects, especially for the employment of labour. Surely, some of the models have been politically tainted, but they should be examined from a non ideological viewpoint, and one should keep in mind that production under supervision, e. g., the Gezira project in Sudan and the agrarian reform cooperatives in Egypt, and other models also figure among those. All these models should be examined on the basis of multiple criteria, e.g., production and market performance, capital formation, employment, equality, participation, adaptability to innovations, etc.

Finally, the growing differentiation between the regions constitutes one of the problems of man land relations. Regions which cause, problems are the stagnating zones, especially the non-irrigated areas. On account of increasing regional differentiation, more and more laws and measures can no longer be applied to whole countries but must be specified regionally.

The nature of the problems of agrarian structure mentioned here-changes in the disposition of production means, access to services, incentives for production, and forms of joint land cultivation and animal husbandry-shows that, more and more, changes in the agrarian structure are not problems of single, non-recurring agrarian reforms, but rather demand a lasting and continuous agrarian and development policy. It is a question of expediency whether the measures should be carried out in small doses or bundled into a "reform!"