System of Land Ownership

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 regulates 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.

Discussion on 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 cultivation.

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.

Land Grants

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 “Fideikommis.”

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 is endangered.

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 remains static.

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.

Farm Tenancy

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.



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