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Land Tenure

Land Tenure

I. IntroductionDaniel P. Biebuyck


II. Agricultural TenancyJohn F. Timmons


III. Land ReformPhilip M. Raup



Under the general and confusing label “land tenure” we are concerned with the complex relationships that exist between categories of individuals and groups in reference to land, water, and their respective products. These relationships can be analyzed in terms of sets of rights and obligations held by these categories of people with regard to the acquisition, exploitation, preservation, and transfer of specific portions of terrain and products. Some of these rights and obligations are highly formal and have little practical bearing. Some are part of a well-established system of legal rules, while others have their foundations in de facto situations. Rarely do these rights, in practice, have an absolute or fully exclusive character. They are, in other words, subject to certain limitations and modalities that are contained in various principles of social organization, situational contexts, ethical principles, and rules of etiquette. Such factors as reciprocity, gift exchange, attitudes toward food and labor, prestige, and recognition contribute to give a special overtone to these rights and obligations.

Patterns of landholding

In order to gain a complete idea of the complicated issues involved, an abstract enumeration or a static view of rights and obligations cannot suffice. To show their content and scope, their practicality and bearing, and the range of entities and social personalities concerned, these rights and obligations must be viewed against a background of highly variable and varying activities and situations. These rights are held in reference to specific parcels of land that can simultaneously be the object of many activities: planting, harvesting, clearing, trapping, hunting, food collecting, building, passage, grazing, etc.; the particular situations and social context in which these activities are performed may differ according to occasion, person, purpose, and time period. These rights are not merely concerned with exploitation, disposal, or control of land, but include also the sharing of products, the levying of tribute, the inauguration of economic activities, the performance of rites, and the claim to settle disputes.

All peoples subdivide the land on which they live for particular purposes of exploitation and residence. This does not mean that all the land on which a given people live is actually subdivided or that there is only one way in which it is subdivided. In all societies there exists a set of minimal regulations that determine the nature of these subdivisions and the kind of groups or categories of individuals that are associated with them. The vast deserts and steppes inhabited by Arab, Persian, or central Asian nomads are not res nullius. These peoples have well-defined ideas about tribal, state, sacred, and personal lands. They have (and respect) fixed patterns of movement and seasonal migration over well-known routes, which are conceived in such a way as to provide each of the groups associated with them with a complete range of seasonal necessities. The point is not that these peoples may be more interested in the products than in the land that provides them, but rather that there exist recognized zones of land control associated with defined human groups.

The principles of land tenure are correlated with various interlocking historical, ecological, demographic, technological, sociopolitical, religious, and psychological factors. The multiple ways in which these factors operate together or against each other render difficult any attempt to set up types of correlations. Generally, in the societies studied by anthropologists, everybody is entitled to obtain land for specific purposes of exploitation and residence. Individuals achieve this by a fairly simple method through membership and/or residence in local kinship groups, villages, bands, tribes, and less frequently, through more involved contractual relationships such as purchase, pledge, loan, lease, clientship, or service. Population density in these societies is, for the most part, low, and this enhances the possibilities for generalized access to land and resources. Landless individuals and groups are thus an exception; indeed, in many societies, land is the single most significant patrimony held by groups of people. This does not, of course, mean that everybody holds equal title to, or equal amounts of, land, nor does it imply that everybody secures these rights in the same manner, under the same conditions, or with the same implications. Even in societies where land is plentiful, marked competition for land and its resources may exist, which is often expressed in rigid demarcation of certain boundaries, highly individualized rights in regard to some types of exploitation, and concurrence of apparently multiple antagonistic principles of land tenure. Population concentrations within certain parts of an otherwise sparsely inhabited region, different qualities of soil and diverse seasonal necessities, local availability of specific animal or plant resources that are highly rated in the value or food systems, and the religious significance attached to select stretches of land account for this situation. The presence of oases or permanent water holes in desert country, forest galleries amidst poor savanna country, natural palm groves in forest or savanna, alluvial soil or rich marsh-land, the occurrence of seals’ breathing holes, etc., provide ample scope for intensive exploitation and rigid delineation of rights in an otherwise flexible context.

There has been a tendency to correlate some patterns of landholding with the basic economic systems of food gathering, hunting, agriculture, and pastoralism. Most of these simplifications have proven to be of little value. The greater portion of known populations are at the same time involved in multiple and complementary forms of land exploitation. If not, they are embedded in a broader community in which highly different economic activities that definitely influence attitudes toward land are carried out by various populations (that is, the many instances of complex contacts between pastoral and agricultural societies or those between Pygmies and Bantu- and Sudanic-speaking populations). But more significantly, these basic economies can and must be broken down into a wide variety of activities, patterns, and technological components. There is no simple category of hunting rights; there are several methods of hunting (with bow and arrow, with dogs and nets and spears, with traps, etc.), a fact that may imply participation of highly diverse categories of people and multiple forms of interaction. There are many kinds of animals hunted, some scarce and some common, some royal or sacred and some not, some economically valuable and others not, some nomadic and others rather sedentary. Again these feaciples of land tenure. Furthermore, the purposes of the hunt vary greatly, some hunting parties having tures are not without profound effect on the prin-a magical character or being connected with seasonal ceremonies or initiations, others being linked merely to subsistence. Trapping rights, which are but one aspect of hunting, have to be analyzed in terms of types of traps, durability, degree of specialization, and nature of environmental alteration.

In different societies, individual rights in land, water, and their products are most commonly secured through membership in tribes, bands, local kinship groups, and villages; descent, residence, marriage and broader affinal relationships, friendships, and political allegiance are basic criteria in establishing this membership. Contractual relationships based on gift, sale (often conditional), lease, tenancy, and pledge are most certainly present in many societies but have often been incorrectly related to the broader social framework. It is clear that in the majority of societies, the bulk of land rights are secured through membership in local kinship groups, but again, for a number of evident reasons, there is no way of drawing simple correlations. The very principles on which these groups are built up—their internal structure, the character of their connections with other similar entities within the larger community, their degree of permanence, and the extent to which affinal and friendship relationships operate to shape residence patterns—leave ample room for a wide range of patterns of rights in land and products. The nature of land control exercised by political officeholders makes patterns all the more unpredictable. In politically centralized societies, kings or paramount chiefs may lay claim to all the land occupied by their subjects. This claim may be expressed by a continued manipulation of land, the giving and withdrawing of it being dictated by political necessities and whims; it may merely manifest itself in the levying of tribute on certain products, or in the right to settle disputes over land, or the right to resume and reallocate unoccupied land. The claim may be purely theoretical and overshadowed by the chiefs duties to insure the fertility of land and everything living on it or by his obligation to see to it that everybody has sufficient land. In other politically centralized societies, chiefs and other subordinate political officeholders may have claims only to specific tracts of land or to vacant land; in still others, they have no claim whatsoever in land, or their rights simply are similar in scope to those held by any lineage head.

Nature and function of landholding . The strictly structural and functional approach to the study of land tenure fails to account for a number of vital questions, the answers to which may be found in the ethnohistorical traditions of particular groups. Thus, in many cases, peculiar features of land tenure result from the history of migration or of settlement and occupation of a given territory, from subsequent contacts between groups of similar and dissimilar cultures, or from the internal history of segmentation, fission, and fusion in local kinship and political units. Furthermore, different elements of folk taxonomy and linguistic classification dealing with land, water, and products shed considerable light on the nature of rights and the entities with which they are associated in a specific social and geographical context.

In virtually all societies, various forms of communal, joint, familial, and individual rights in land and its resources are intricately interwoven with one another. In many cases either the individual or joint aspects of these rights and obligations are emphasized, or are at least most clearly manifest, but this does not automatically lead to the absence of the other aspects. Thus in pastoral tribes, where grazing rights are normally vested in larger entities such as the tribe itself, restrictive claims to certain pastures or wells are seasonally or permanently enhanced. In hunting and food-gathering societies, where control over defined tracts of land is associated with bands or local kinship groups, certain forms of exploitation on smaller portions of the general domain are restricted to segments of bands or to families and individuals. In simple agricultural societies, where general control of a given land tract is vested in a local kinship group or in a village, individualized rights in fields, agricultural products, trees, trapping sites, etc., do exist.

Many authors, apparently without full ethnographic validation, have tended to stress the imprecision and casualness of the rules relating to control over land. The rules are precise and well known, but they are multifaceted and flexible and can therefore be fully grasped only within the broadest possible framework of the above-mentioned interconnecting factors. We must realize that in any given society multiple systems may be simultaneously at work. The group controlling land for agricultural purposes is not necessarily the same as the group controlling it for hunting or trapping or food-gathering activities, which again allow for differences in degree and nature of control in terms of their many technological aspects. In addition, within a given society it is not necessarily true, as is so often implied in the literature, that the same type of group at the same level of segmentation is necessarily associated with a given land tract. Nor can we exclude for a precise under-standing of rules of land tenure such less frequently mentioned features as virgin versus occupied and fallow land, geographical remoteness of parts of the estate, cyclic differences in quality and quantity of food supplies caused by variable amounts of rainfall, etc. To illustrate this point, among the Nyanga living in the east of the Congo Republic the resident members of local clans are in direct control of the virgin parts of a well-defined territory (where several forms of hunting and food gathering take place), whereas segments of these clans and extended families control specific, but not necessarily contiguous, tracts within it as trapping sites and fallow or cultivated land. Hunting and gathering rights are much less rigidly sanctioned for the most remote parts of the virgin tract than they are for the more accessible ones; in years of abundance, explicitly recognized by the Nyanga, great permissiveness is allowed with regard to the collecting of natural products and even the harvesting of cultivated ones. At all times, the pygmoid groups surviving in the country are permitted to take freely, but not overtly, certain species of cultivated bananas. All these and many other permissive types of behavior prevail in an otherwise rigid code of rules pertaining to land control.

The many tedious speculations as to whether or not ownership of land exists as a legal and philosophical concept are largely irrelevant, since they are culture-bound and fail to account for the originalities of non-Western thought systems. The question must be placed in a different perspective and can be solved only to the extent that we are willing to get rid of certain stereotypes, such as alienability or absoluteness, thought to be diagnostic elements of land ownership. A better grasp of linguistic concepts and folk classifications would greatly contribute to leading us out of this impasse. In some central African populations, all rights pertaining to land and its products are covered by one single concept, which in the minds of the people means as much as “to be with . . . ,” and are therefore thought to be basically similar to each other in their legal implications. However, any given category of persons is always rigidly said “to be with” a well-defined entity, so that the scope of the rights, and the extent to which they bear, are fundamentally distinct. Thus women are said “to be with” crops, married men residing with their kinship group are said “to be with” gardens (or rather banana groves), extended families residing on land traditionally associated with the local clan of which their heads are members are said “to be with” ndimo (land under cultivation and fallow land, which is also the object of intensive gathering and trapping), etc. The bearing of every right is well circumscribed in a specific context, and the rights cannot be reversed. The connotations of “being with” are clear to these people; for the outsider they are understandable only in full reference to ties of kinship, marriage, residence, and friendship; to ideas about solidarity, reciprocity, and etiquette; and to concepts about incorporation of labor that prevail among these people.

Regarding the critical concept of land alienation, the transfer of certain rights is definitely a well-known phenomenon. However, in many instances, we are unclear as to the exact scope and content of the rights transferred. It is clear that in traditional subsistence economies alienation by outright sale of land is extremely rare. This is understandable since land is quite plentiful and the methods for using it securely are relatively simple and multi-fold; there also exists a series of alternatives for obtaining it. Furthermore, land is vitally linked with the perpetuation of groups of people and with their autonomy, solidarity, and cohesion. Most commonly the rights transferred bear on specific usages, are subject to many modalities (including reversibility), and operate within a well-defined social framework (for example, transfers are restricted to certain categories of persons, excluding nonincorporated strangers). Transfers are either an exception or occur only in cases of dire necessity. It is also true that very often portions of land are not transferable at all because of religious values connected with them or because of their high productivity. Alienation of land through direct conquest or gradual peaceful expansion has, of course, been a widespread occurrence. Here again, the conquerors have not necessarily occupied all the land or claimed full title to it, and there has been a marked tendency in many societies to consider, as is often expressed in various ritual arrangements, that the ultimate title to the land remains with the original settlers.

Sociocultural change . Under conditions of sociocultural and technological change, land tenure systems, which are so intimately bound to many facets of culture and environment, are due to undergo many modifications, but the outcome is un-predictable. Under the impact of new factors such as increase in population, development of more intensive agriculture, cash cropping, and money economy, the bulk of the rules of land-tenure systems may be nevertheless perpetuated. A variety of responses can result from this. Rights in land may become more exclusive, litigation about boundaries and the nature of titles may increase, landlessness and tenancy may develop, rights of political officeholders may emerge more strongly, groups of people may be compelled to emigrate, and so on. In this process the unity and cohesion of traditional land-controlling units may be disturbed or consolidated. Increased demand for land may lead to fragmentation of holdings, and new concepts of alienability may emerge, with the corresponding un-economic implications of conflict situations. Often traditional systems, when exposed to a multiplicity of new factors, have proven to be slow in adjusting themselves to the new necessities and demands. It is then that various legislative measures have had to be taken with regard to consolidation, resettlement, reallocation, and redistribution of land and people. Likewise, conflicts of law have paved the way to greater complexity of the problems involved and to difficult social situations, which have sometimes found only uneasy solutions. The creation of secure individualized title, the correlated registration of titles, the organization of successoral systems, and the introduction of new attitudes toward land without a corresponding radical transformation of the social system have proven to be very complex, often producing problems insoluble in the traditional contexts. Entire populations, or sections of a population, have failed to recognize the validity of modern types of land transactions and land titles, and adjustments between widely divergent values and laws have been slow to come.

As far as problems of research are concerned, a theoretical, precise framework for dealing with land-tenure systems and a cross-culturally valid and applicable method of investigation are badly needed at all levels of descriptive and comparative analysis, It is particularly important that we get rid of some of the stereotypes about ownership and set up a well-founded system of terminology. Comprehensive anthropological descriptions that view single land-tenure systems in a multifaceted way are still very necessary. In this respect, an exhaustive analysis of the linguistic concepts and taxonomic categories that various peoples have devised in regard to their environment, their land, their water, and the products obtained from them could shed new light on our methods and concepts. The exact connotations of issues such as alienation and other types of transfer and the precise scope of various forms of permissiveness and exclusiveness would have to be more thoroughly investigated and clarified. The exploration of land tenure has all too often been a subsidiary interest, casually treated and camouflaged behind a number of classic categories for analysis. There must be a distinctive, and hopefully rewarding, way of looking at relationships between groups and categories of persons with land, water, and their products as a referent.

Daniel P. Biebuyck

[Other relevant material may be found inAfrican society; Asian society, article OnSoutheast asia;Land, article onclassification.]


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Goodenough, Ward H. 1955 A Problem in Malayo-Polynesian Social Organization. American Anthropologist New Series 57:71–83. → See Volume 58, pages 170–176, for comments by Charles O. Frake and a reply by Goodenough.

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Nearly three-fifths of the world’s 3,100 million people derive their livelihood from agriculture. Of this estimated 1,860 million people within agriculture, most do not own the land on which they live and work. Instead many purchase rights of cultivation and occupancy from others. In return for hired rights in land, these people pay the landowners, or their intermediaries, a share of the produce, a fixed amount of produce, a fixed amount of money, personal services, or some combination of these payments. These people are tenants.

Throughout the world tenants and their families probably constitute as many as two-fifths of the population engaged in agriculture. Thus, as many as 700 to 800 million people over the globe work and live under conditions of agricultural tenancy.

Most tenants aspire to ownership of their lands. Therefore, tenancy may well be appraised in terms of how well it provides tenants with opportunities to gain experience, acquire capital, and make decisions in the process of acquiring landownership. On the other hand, many tenants are not likely to become owners in the foreseeable future. Hence, for them, tenancy must be appraised in terms of additional objectives, including increasing the productivity of their labor, capital, and land resources and improving their living conditions. These objectives are consistent with the pursuit of ownership and are equally appropriate for tenants who never become owners, either through choice or lack of opportunity.

In the United States. Within the United States, about 20 per cent of the farmers are full tenants, who rent all the land they operate (U.S. Bureau of Census… 1963, pp. 1008–1013). An additional 23 per cent of the nation’s farmers rent part and own part of the land they operate; they are termed part owners. The remaining 57 per cent of the nation’s farmers hold ownership to all the land they operate and are designated full owners.

The proportion of farms in the United States operated by tenants in 1959 (20 per cent) was the lowest in 80 years. It represents a drop from 24 per cent in 1954 and from 42 per cent in 1930, the highest percentage on record.

Throughout the United States much variation exists in the prevalence of tenancy. The proportion of farms operated by tenants in 1959 varied from 6 per cent in the eastern states to 22 per cent in the north central and southern states to 12 per cent in the western states.

Nearly 50 per cent of all farms operated by tenants were in the southern states and 42 per cent were in the north central states. In the South, the tenant-operated farms were concentrated in the cotton- and tobacco-producing regions.

Six subclasses of tenants are identified in the United States (U.S. Bureau of Census … 1963, p. 1003). Cash tenants pay a fixed cash rent for the use and occupancy of their land. Share-cash tenants pay part of their rent in cash and part in a share of the crops and/or livestock and livestock products. Crop-share tenants pay a share of the crops only. Livestock-share tenants pay a share of the livestock and/or livestock products; their rent may or may not include a share of the crops. Croppers pay a share of the crops, a share of the livestock and livestock products, or both, but usually work under the close supervision of the landlord or his agent, who furnishes all the work animals or tractor power. Data for croppers are restricted to the 16 southern states where the cropper system developed following the Civil War. In other states, croppers are included with share-tenants. Other and unspecified tenants include those farmers who hire their land under various other arrangements.

Tenants in the United States are made up of 27 per cent crop-share, 18 per cent share-cash, 16 per cent croppers, 15 per cent cash, 12 per cent livestock-share, and 12 per cent other and unspecified (ibid., p. 1010).

During the 1950s important changes took place among several classes of tenants in the United States. The proportion of tenant farms operated by croppers decreased from 24.0 to 16.4 per cent between 1950 and 1959. The proportion of tenant farms operated by livestock-share tenants increased from 8.0 to 11.7 per cent during the same period. The proportion of tenant farms operated by crop-share and by cash tenants remained fairly constant during this period.

Changes in proportions of farms operated by tenants in the United States are associated with the changing character of American agriculture (ibid., p. 1016). Between 1950 and 1959, the number of farm operators dropped from 5.4 million to 3.7 million, a decrease of 1.7 million farm operators. In 1964, the number of farm operators was 3.2 million, a drop of 0.5 million from the 1959 figure (U.S. Bureau of Census ... 1966, p. 2). During the 1950–1959 period, tenant operators decreased from 1.4 million to 0.7 million, a drop of 0.7 million, or a 50 per cent decrease. By 1964, tenant operators had decreased to 0.5 million, a drop of 0.2 million more. Because of their younger age and lack of ownership of land, tenants are more mobile than owner operators and more readily shift to jobs outside agriculture. Also, associated with the increase of farm size from 215 acres per farm in 1950 to 303 acres in 1959 and to 352 acres in 1964, tenant-operated farms have been combined or have been added to owner-operated farms, thus reducing opportunities on farms for tenant operators.

The 0.5 million tenant operators in 1964 constitute the least number reported in a census since 1880, the first year tenant operators were counted in the United States (U.S. Bureau of Census ... 1963). The 1964 count of tenant operators is 2.3 million less than the number of tenant operators reported in 1935, the year of peak tenant numbers.

Variations throughout the world. Throughout the world wide variations exist in the prevalence of tenancy. In Scotland 77 per cent of the farmers are tenants, while in Denmark the percentage is as low as 5 (Food and Agriculture Organization ... 1953 a). In England and Wales the percentage is 65, while in West Germany it is 5. In the less-developed countries, similar variations exist. In Cambodia, the proportion of tenant farmers is around 5 per cent, while in India the percentage is 53 (Food and Agriculture Organization . . . 1955). Within other countries variations in the proportion of farms operated by tenants exist just as in the United States. For example, in the Philippines the proportion of tenancy varies from 2 per cent of all farmers in the mountain section of Luzon to over two-thirds of the farmers in central Luzon.

Tenancy fulfills the objectives of productivity, levels of living, and progress to ownership in varying degrees throughout the world. In Britain, tenant farmers possess security of occupancy, are productive, and share in living conditions equal to other groups. In other areas of the world, tenancy is associated with human exploitation, low productivity, lack of opportunity, and substandard living conditions. In some areas of Latin America, the tenancy system represents the continuation of a feudal structure wherein the tenants remain virtual serfs of the landlords and agricultural development is severely retarded (Food and Agriculture Organization ... 1953b).

Advantages and problems. Tenancy per se is neither good nor bad. The nature of tenancy structures is the key to its utility. Tenancy may serve well the needs of a progressive agriculture, as it is doing in Britain and in mid western United States, or it may impede agricultural development, as it is doing in several Latin American and Asiatic countries. Tenancy can provide the means by which landowners and the landless may join their respective resources in a productive and complementary manner. The landowner, in addition to some management, furnishes his land and possibly capital; the tenant furnishes his labor, ability, and some operating capital. In the process the tenant gains experience, accumulates capital, and improves his living conditions; the landlord receives returns from his investment. Under tenancy the tenant may invest his limited capital in working stock rather than in fixed assets of land. Usually, working capital returns more than fixed capital in land for each unit of investment.

As a result of this combination of complementary resources, the productivity of farm operations is enhanced, creating a larger income to be distributed between the resource contributors, landlord and tenant. On the other hand, defects within tenancy structures may block the achievement of these objectives.

Uncertainty of expectations may arise, so that tenants do not possess assurance that they will reap the benefits from their efforts. The tenancy arrangement may discourage tenants from making investments in improvements necessary for a productive agriculture. The bargaining position between tenants and landlords may be such that all additional productivity of the tenants’ efforts will flow to the landlord. Lack of operating capital or capital obtainable only at excessive cost may pre-vent the tenant from adopting improved production practices and from enjoying better living conditions.

The size of holdings may be so small, particularly under “minifundia” conditions, that the value productivity of the tenants’ labor approaches zero. High fixed costs of rents may both preclude needed production investments and prevent improving the family’s level of living. The tenant may not possess adequate legal protection to enforce the laws which have been developed to protect his interests in the farm and its income.

Remedies. In developing remedies for the problems tenants face throughout the world, there are certain objectives that appear desirable. First, the tenant farmer must be provided with incentives to improve his economic and social position through increasing his productivity. Second, the tenant must be provided with sufficient certainty of expectations of receiving the returns from the investments which he must make to increase the productivity of his resources. In this sense his planning horizon must equal the optimum planning period for the investments. Third, the tenant must be provided motivations to save and to create capital as his productivity increases in order to provide seed capital for further increases in productivity. Fourth, the tenant must have access to sufficient land, capital resources, technological knowledge, and management aids to enable him to increase the productivity of resources under his control.

In achieving these objectives, an essential function of tenancy improvement is to provide a structural framework in which individual tenants and landowners can work together to improve their own financial and social positions and, at the same time, to improve the position of the nation in which they live. A second essential function of tenancy improvement is to provide a basis whereby productive resources of landlord and tenant can be combined to provide for the most economic allocation of combined resources and, in accordance with the productivities of each of the combined resources, for the equitable distribution of returns.

In addition to these two essential economic functions, there are social and political aims in the development of tenants. These are to enable the tenant and his family to improve their social, as well as economic, position and to participate in community activities and public affairs. In many less developed areas of the world, tenancy has been a major cause of social and political unrest (Jacoby 1949). Thus, improvements in tenancy conditions may be expected to facilitate the achievement of political stability, as well as social development and economic growth.

There exist three major alternatives for tenants to improve themselves. One approach is through policies which encourage ownership of their land. This approach has been followed successfully in Denmark, Japan, and the United States. Another approach is group tenures, wherein tenants join together and share in the resources and the productivities of their common resources. The ejido in Mexico, the proportional profit farm in Puerto Rico, the kibbutz in Israel, the cooperative in Poland, and the recognized Indian community in the sierra of South America are examples. The third approach consists of improvements within the tenancy structure (Timmons 1957). England, the Republic of China (Taiwan), and India are examples of nations which have emphasized improvements within tenancy structures.

Improvement of structure. Within this third approach of improving tenancy structures, countries have taken steps toward providing tenants with security of expectations for remaining on the farm and for developing their resources over relevant planning periods. Particular provisions used in these countries include (1) written lease pro-visions, (2) long-term leases, (3) minimum (in years) lease terms, (4) minimum periods for termination notices and automatic renewals, (5) heritability of leases, (6) restrictions on transfer of leased land, (7) permanent occupancy and use rights which cannot be violated by owners, and (8) compensation to the tenant for the unexhausted value of improvements made by him in case he leaves the farm before receiving full value of the improvements which he has made or in case the landlord wishes to operate the farm himself. In addition to these eight provisions, leasing arrangements have also been designed to provide compensation to the landlord for unnecessary waste and deterioration of his resources caused by the tenant. Within these provisions, adjustment in the kind and amount of rental payments in accordance with types of production and productivity of resource inputs available to the tenant and his land-lord is necessary in order to bring forth a maximum net return for the combined resources.

Under the provision for compensation, which has been developed most highly under the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1948 in England, the tenant has a statutory right to compensation for (1) long-term improvements (2) medium-term improvements, and (3) rights of occupancy. In computing compensations for improvements or deterioration, three methods of assessing values for improvements are used: compensation may be based upon (1) the original cost of the improvement, (2) the replacement cost of the improvement, and (3) the added return the improvement is expected to yield.

As pointed out earlier, tenants may pay landlords in a number of ways for the hire of land. Although most tenants pay a share of their product or a service payment as rent for their land, the cash rental or fixed price rental has a number of advantages in encouraging individual initiative and operation of the farm at a maximum level of production. The cash rental automatically satisfies two necessary conditions for maximizing the productivity of factors (Hurlburt 1954). The requirement that variable cost be shared in the same proportion as output is satisfied since the tenant is responsible for all variables under the cash rent arrangement and in turn receives the full value from additional output. The condition that the tenant pay the same share of the value of each product is also satisfied, since the cash rental may be considered a fixed cost for all products and charged in the same pro-portion to each (Benedictis & Timmons 1961). Under the cash rent form of lease, the tenant has maximum freedom to develop his management ability.

The cash rent system, however, does possess certain difficulties, in that the tenant is required to assume the costs of many risks and uncertainties, which under the share arrangement are shared with landlords. Also under the cash rent system, the tenant must have access to sufficient capital to operate the farm with no financial aid from the landowner.

Another direction of tenancy improvements includes the regulation of levels of rental payments. Inasmuch as the level of rents determines the landlord’s as well as the tenant’s income and the amount of capital available to the tenant for crop and livestock production, levels and rigidities of rental payments are important in tenancy improvement measures. Rental rates frequently exceed two-thirds of the production in the less developed countries. Measures taken to bring rental payments into line with productivity have included the establishment of rental ceilings such as the 37½ per cent Rent Control Law in Taiwan; the setting of minimum levels of tenant income; and adjustments of rents to income changes resulting from productivity, cost, and price trends (Chryst & Timmons 1955).

In addition to rents as payments for land hire, there exists in numerous areas throughout the world the practice of extra rental payments in the form of usurious interest rates, excessive charges for processing and marketing services, and feudal dues and services to landlords. Improvements in these defects in rental structures have been instituted in a number of countries in the form of (1) abolition of feudal dues and services, (2) maximum processing and marketing charges, (3) maximum interest charges, and (4) access to public credit.

All these potential improvements in tenancy structures may come to naught unless they are implemented by legislation, administration, education, research, and judicial processes. The problem of implementation of tenancy improvements is serious and must receive adequate attention or the tenancy improvements contained in laws and government reports will never be extended into practices that benefit rural people and their communities.

John F. Timmons


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Chryst, Walter E.; and Timmons, John F. 1955 Adjusting Farm Rents to Changes in Prices, Costs and Production. Iowa Agricultural Experiment Station, Ames, Special Report 9: 1–44.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Agriculture Division 1953 a Agricultural Development and Rural Reform in Denmark, by F. Skrubbeltrang. FAO Agricultural Studies No. 22. Rome: FAO.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 1953 b Report on the Latin American Seminar on Land Problems, Campinas, Brazil. FAO–ETAP Report No. 205. Rome: FAO.

Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations 1955 Report of the Center on Land Problems in Asia and the Far East, Bangkok, Thailand. FAO–ETAP Report No. 393. Rome: FAO.

Hurlburt, Virgil L. 1954 Farm Rental Practices and Problems in the Midwest. Iowa Agricultural Experiment Station, Ames, Research Bulletin 416:78–120.

Jacoby, Erich H. (1949) 1961 Agrarian Unrest in Southeast Asia. 2d ed., rev. and enl. New York: Asia Publishing House.

Timmons, John F. 1957 Improving Agricultural Tenancy: An FAO Land Tenure Study. FAO Agricultural Studies, No. 35. Rome: FAO.

U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Agriculture, 1959 1963 General Report. Volume 2: Statistics by Subjects. Washington: Government Printing Office.

U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Agriculture,1964 1966 Preliminary Report of U.S. Summary. AC64–P1. Washington: Government Printing Office.


In its simplest meaning, land reform has meant the breaking up of large holdings and redistribution of the land to peasants, cultivators, or landless workers. Documented reforms of this type took place in the sixth century B.C. in Greece and in the second century B.C. in Rome. Modern land reforms in this classic pattern characterized the revolution in Mexico after 1910, Egypt in 1952, and Bolivia in 1953. A common feature was dispossession of former landowning classes coupled with changes in size of farm operating units.

A related class of reforms has emphasized change in land tenure relationships without substantial change in size of operating units. This was the principal outcome of land reforms accompanying the French Revolution after 1789. Twentieth-century examples include the Japanese land reform of 1946; reforms in western India after independence, beginning with the Bombay Tenures Abolition Act of 1949; and land reform on Taiwan after 1949. Principal goals have been abolition of feudal tenures or servitudes and rent reduction or conversion of tenants into owners.

Land reform in this traditional pattern reflects a striving for political equity and social justice. While agricultural technology was dominated by custom and tradition, little thought was given to land reform as a device to promote technological advance or output increases. Marxian thought contributed to a major break with the classic tradition of land reform by combining a doctrinal stress on socialization or nationalization of land with emphasis on presumed economies that could be achieved through large-scale production.

A third class of land reforms has resulted, in which peasant yearning for land has been used as a political vehicle for the initial achievement of tenure reform, often accompanied by land redistribution. Subsequent reforms in farm operation have then created large managerial units, under a variety of forms of communal, cooperative, or collective tenure, or state ownership. The pattern for this trend was set by events in the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1931, repeated in a compressed time dimension in eastern Europe after 1944, in mainland China after 1949, and in Cuba, 1959–1963.

Confusion has been introduced by use of the term “agrarian reform” In countries with Latinbased languages, reference to agrarian reform carries a connotation that may or may not involve major land tenure changes. Some agrarian reform programs in Latin America, for example, have emphasized agricultural modernization, extension work, and land settlement.

In order to maintain integrity of relationships between means and ends, land reform is defined here as a basic change in land tenure arrangements —in relations among men with respect to land— together with supporting measures necessary to achieve its objectives. The nature of these objectives has undergone substantial change in the past century.

Historical background . Evolution of land reform in its modern meaning traces from the emancipation of serfs in imperial Russia in 1861 and of slaves in the United States in 1863—two disparate versions of land reform with a common emphasis on personal freedom, equity, and social justice.

Although widely different in setting, scale, and consequences, abolition of serfdom in Russia and of slavery in the United States dramatized the inadequacies of land tenure systems in which men, rather than land, were owned and in which labor was the major component of agricultural capital. Over a century later, traces of tenure in men rather than in land still exist in portions of Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. One dimension of the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the United States is the attempt to bring to an end any form of political dominance over men that is rooted in control of land or in restrictions on freedom of occupational choice.

This goal characterized many rural land reform movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in particular, Irish struggles to abolish absentee ownership after 1870, the triumph of the Danish small holder movement in 1901, and the Stolypin reforms in Russia between 1906 and 1911. Political considerations were dominant, with a focus on creation of a middle class of small peasant proprietors.

Urban land reform movements, also a feature of the late nineteenth century, were greatly stimulated by publication of Henry George’s Progress and Poverty in 1879. George argued for a “single tax” that would recapture any land value increases not justified by the labor and investment of the landowner or land user. Rapid urbanization accompanying early industrial growth made this a particularly appealing argument in emerging industrial centers. Land reform long had a predominantly urban connotation in Germany, for example, reflected in urban housing and homestead (small house and garden) proposals of the German Land Reform League, organized in 1898 under the leadership of Adolph Damaschke, an ardent disciple of Henry George.

Nineteenth-century views of land, including those of Karl Marx and Henry George, were dominated by a belief in the physical limits of land supply. Disappearance of frontiers of settlement, the limitations revealed by geographical explorations of hitherto unknown areas, and the first wave of population increase brought about by improvements in medical care and public health all fostered a belief in the inevitability of growing population pressure on a fixed resource base. Land policy prescriptions took the form of demands for land redistribution, in the name of equity. Alternatively, land nationalization was advanced as the only feasible method of securing equal access to land resources for all the people. Elements of both prescriptions characterized almost all of the twentieth-century land reforms that occurred prior to World War II.

The current era of land reforms was introduced on two fronts: by the Soviet Union after 1944 in eastern European states dominated by the Red Army, and by the Japanese land reform of 1946, enacted under the tutelage of United States occupation forces. Further impetus to this trend was given by the breakup of colonial empires, most prominently by the British grant of independence to India and Pakistan in 1947, and by the conquest of the Chinese mainland by revolutionary communist forces in 1949. Between 1945 and 1950, some type of land reform was begun in countries that together account for slightly under half of the world’s population.

During the 1950s the center of land reform activity shifted. Latin America emerged as an area in which land redistribution was most needed—and most vigorously debated. Since 1960, 14 Latin American states have enacted some type of land reform legislation.

Impact of technological change .After 1945 a major change occurred in economic thinking regarding land reform and was manifested in 1950 when the topic came before the General Assembly of the United Nations. In later discussions in 1951 before the Economic and Social Council and the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization, it was emphasized that the concept of land reform should be expanded to include more than the breaking up of large estates or the consolidation of small holdings. It was defined to include opportunity for land ownership, improved conditions of tenancy, agricultural credit at reasonable rates of interest, reform of exorbitant rents and taxes, and facilities for obtaining agricultural supplies and marketing agricultural products, with emphasis on cooperatives.

This shift in emphasis reflected the impact of the technological revolution in agriculture that began after 1910 with perfection of the internal combustion engine and the tractor. Contemporary advances in fertilizer production, seed varieties, and agricultural chemicals greatly expanded the range and potential of purchased inputs available to modern agriculture. Parallel advances in marketing, storage, and processing called for increasing attention to the demand side of the agricultural supply and demand equation. It was no longer sufficient to focus on production alone in promoting agricultural advances, or to regard only land and labor as the major agricultural inputs. In more advanced economies, access to purchased production requisites became as important as access to land. And access to markets was of growing importance in all economies, from the simplest to the most complex. Land reform limited to land tenure change alone was an obsolete concept.

A fundamental shift also occurred in attitudes toward fixity of land supply. Faster and cheaper transport brought more land within the reach of national and world markets. Fertilizers, chemicals, hybrid seeds, and better cultivation practices made infertile lands productive and augmented the output of fertile lands. Improved techniques of dam building, irrigation, drainage, and water management greatly increased intensities of land use.

As a result, motives that propel land reforms in the second half of the twentieth century go beyond those of equity and social justice. Output increase becomes a third goal. With growing commercialization and monetization in even the most primitive agrarian economies, social justice is increasingly measured in terms of patterns of income distribution. And the consequences of land reforms must be judged in terms of the extent to which they can expand internal markets. Output increases, more equitable income distribution, and internal market expansion emerge as the major tests of modern efforts at land reform.

Potentials of land reform . One criterion of land reform is the degree to which it can promote capital formation and investment. This can be judged in the private sector at the level of the farm firm, and in the public sector at the level of the rural community.

Much private capital in agriculture is the result of slow processes of accumulation. Examples include increases in number and quality of livestock; development of tree crops; improvements in buildings, fencing, or drainage or irrigation systems; and better soil management. On peasant-type or family-sized farms much of this investment is accomplished at the expense of what might otherwise have been leisure time.

Because of the dispersed and biological nature of agricultural production, it is difficult to concentrate it either in time or in space. Waiting—for crops to ripen, for trees to grow, or for animals to mature—is a major cost. On the best-organized farms there are time periods when labor must be present but cannot be fully employed. The incentive structure that can maximize capital formation is one that will promote productive use of this seasonally or cyclically underemployed labor.

One test of a land tenure system thus becomes whether it can provide incentives for productive use of the total rural labor supply. On big farms, estates, or plantations it has been difficult to devise labor-wage and supervisory systems to maximize accretionary processes of capital formation. Land reform that creates viable peasant or family-type farms may increase the likelihood that leisure time will be converted into capital at minimum cost.

In the public sector, it is an almost universal experience that land taxes can be collected more readily from many relatively small landowners than from a few large ones. If land taxes are spent locally on schools, roads, or welfare, the benefits are apparent to every taxpayer. Large landowners often succeed in tax evasion or in holding tax rates low. Land reform that promotes tax reform can thus provide a climate of civic responsibility in which local taxation can be used for public capital formation. If local infrastructures must be financed by the central government, costs may be higher and the quality of services lower, and taxpayers may lose a sense of identification with processes of government. Good rural school systems are as much a hallmark of sound land tenure structures as are productive farms.

Land tenure systems also affect rates of techno-logical change. Older histories of agricultural advances were cast in a heroic mold, with a few great names associated with new discoveries, inventions, and innovations. After 1945, the rebirth of interest in processes of economic development led to a critical re-examination of this interpretation of history. Evidence from three sharply different economies—England (Mingay 1963), Colombia (Hagen 1962), and Japan (Sawada 1964)—points to the importance of innovation and experimentation by small farmers, tenants, and actual land users in general in early periods of agricultural development.

Contemporary data suggest that large-scale agricultural units in developing countries are best suited to application of known technology involving a comparatively small number of repetitive tasks per production cycle. The Soviet Union’s experience with collective and state farms is paralleled by performance records of sugar and coffee plantations in Latin America and rubber production in Malaysia. Crops once classed as plantation crops are increasingly produced on peasant-type farms (Wickizer 1960). Large, centrally directed units apparently discourage flexibility. Scarce capital must be committed in large amounts, and innovation is inhibited by bureaucratic rigidity or political risk. Managers are often unwilling to accept the high costs of technological change. [SeePlantations.]

The most rapid and lasting advances occur in agricultural systems characterized by a mixture of farms of different size and type. Farm units need to be large enough to permit risk taking and capital accumulation. But an agrarian structure composed of a relatively few large farms may introduce rigidity, reduce the opportunity to acquire experience in small doses, and increase the cost of mistakes. This is one of the lessons to be learned from the British groundnut scheme in Tanganyika after 1945 and the Soviet virgin lands program after 1953. A major task of land reform is the creation of an agrarian structure that can maximize opportunities for innovation, experimentation, and selective retention of new technology.

Problems of land reform . A management gap typically results if former landlords or managers are replaced by new owners, who often lack managerial skill or experience. This was a major defect of the Bolivian land reform in 1953 and the Syrian and Iraqi land reforms of 1958. In Bolivia and Iraq agricultural output fell by over 50 per cent after the reforms. After independence Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia encountered similar difficulties in replacing the managerial skills of departed or evicted French entrepreneurs. A notable feature of the Egyptian land reform of 1952 was the accompanying effort to deal with this management gap through creation of supervised cooperatives that could take over functions formerly performed by the landlords (Warriner 1962).

Removal of a former landowning or managerial class can result in equally serious problems of public management. Where land reform is a critical issue, it is not only ownership of land or men that is in question but also “ownership” of government. Realization of potential gains from land reform may call for a new generation of farm managers. It will almost surely require reform in the structure of local government.

Efforts in many countries to introduce communal, collective, or cooperative types of farm organization can be re-examined in this light. Large-scale collective-type farms may have their greatest value as proxy forms of local government rather than as efficient forms of farm production organization. The average collective farm in the Soviet Union in 1964 was approximately the size of the average rural township in the Midwest of the United States. The average state farm was the size of half a county in the United States.

In many functional respects, the Soviet farm is the minor civil division of local government. It has been responsible for road building, health, sanitation, and welfare within the farm area. Cumbersome inefficiency as a production organization may be partially offset by relative efficiency as a unit of local government.

Failure to fill the governmental vacuum left by destruction of rural political power structures centered on a few landowning families has been a weakness of many land reforms. It does little good to provide capital, fertilizers, or farm advisers to new landowners without corresponding attention to reconstruction of local government.

The management gap following land reform has a close parallel in the credit gap. In many traditional land tenure systems the landowner often provided production credit, thus opening the door to labor exploitation. A cycle of advances to cultivators, crop mortgages to insure repayment, usurious interest rates, and perpetual indebtedness has been distressingly frequent, especially in Asia (Jacoby 1961). If former landowner-creditors are dispossessed, one of the most pressing needs is for replacement credit.

Provision of credit is not enough, although it is essential. A more intractable problem has been to persuade new owners to use credit wisely and to regard it as a production tool rather than as a supplement to income. Attitudes toward debt in traditional rural societies have identified it with disaster, celebration, or moral degeneracy. One of the most significant functions governments can perform in the wake of land reform is to provide cultivators with credit under sufficient supervision to insure that they use it wisely.

The credit gap is compounded by defective land title and survey systems in most developing countries. Land reform legislation in Iran in 1960 set a maximum limit in hectares on the land any one owner could retain. A hasty effort was needed to redraft the legislation when it became apparent that necessary land survey records were lacking. The resultant law of 1962 provided that a landlord could retain only one village, without specifying size.

The attempt by Iraq in 1958 to pattern its land reform on the 1952 Egyptian model failed in part because Egypt had a system of cadastral survey records, and Iraq did not. Prompt execution of the relatively modest Pakistan land reform after 1959 was aided by good land title and survey records. Contributing to the success of land reform on Taiwan after 1949 were the Chinese tradition of careful attention to land records and meticulously complete land surveys compiled by the Japanese.

Latin America and the Philippines inherited defective land survey and title systems from the era of Spanish rule. Landowners, merchants, and religious leaders often discouraged systematic land surveys. It was thought easier to control serf-like labor, maintain trade hegemony of coastal cities, or promote orderly settlement if survey was done piecemeal. The result has been illegal squatter settlement, acute problems of latifundia and minifundia, disregard for law and order, and defective bases for tax assessment and credit extension. Crash programs are under way in a number of Latin American countries to construct cadastral survey systems, preparatory to land reforms.

Much agonizing indecision has surrounded African fears that a too hasty provision of land titles might lead to repetition on a continental scale of past histories of individualization of title, mortgage debt, and foreclosure. Squatter settlement is growing, and monetization is leading to land speculation. Pressure for individualization of land titles increases. New African states south of the Sahara are relatively free of land tenure problems represented by large estates, absentee landlordism, and excessive concentration of land ownership. Emphasis in Africa falls heavily on development of land tenure systems, rather than on their reform.

Compensation to dispossessed landowners has generated acute problems of policy. If reform abolishes private ownership of land, the compensation question is an aspect of welfare policy, or social security. The Cuban land reform after 1963 expropriated private landholdings above stated limits but specified that owners who had tilled or managed their lands personally were to receive monthly payments of 100 to 200 pesos for ten years, depending on the amount of land owned.

Cash payment for large landholdings is beyond the financial capacity of most developing countries. Recent approaches to this problem were influenced by the Japanese experience after 1946, when inflation reduced compensation to nominal amounts. The subsequent Chinese land reform on Taiwan after 1953 compensated landowners 70 per cent in bonds pegged to official prices for rice or sweet potatoes and 30 per cent in shares of denationalized businesses. Philippine land reform legislation of 1963 provided for compensation in 25-year bonds, with the option of taking up to 30 per cent in Land Bank preferred stock, exchanging bonds for shares in corporations, and several other alternatives.

Valuation of land for purposes of compensation to old owners or sale to new owners has posed a dilemma. Past histories of labor exploitation can lead to land price levels far above any productivity values based on equitable labor returns. Payment of compensation at these unrealistic prices has appeared to be a reward for past exploitative practices. Denial of compensation, on the other hand, has cast doubt on the validity of new land titles and on security of property rights in general.

Land reform through tenant protection legislation has been attempted in parts of India and in the Philippines. Rent reductions or rent ceilings in the Chinese (Taiwan) and Egyptian reforms affected larger areas of private land than were directly concerned in land redistribution. Although a number of countries have tried tenancy reform as a substitute for more comprehensive attacks on land tenure problems, it has generally failed unless coupled with thoroughgoing efforts at land redistribution. Threat of loss of land has apparently been a necessary precondition for an attack on tenancy problems. Even this threat has been ineffective in densely populated countries, where demographic pressures make it out of the question to promise land to all the landless.

Lessons of land reform . Where there are large populations of landless workers or subtenants, land reform may not be a sufficient tool for the solution of rural poverty problems. It may be impossible to give land to all claimants without creating farms that are too small. This realization has sometimes inhibited attempts at land reform. A distinction is needed between problems of defective incentive structures that can be attacked through land reform, and problems of endemic rural poverty that must be attacked with other tools.

Land reform has frequently left untouched problems of domestic petty landlordism. Upper limits on permissible holdings can create new structures of inequity. Small landholdings held by absentee landlords have been difficult to bring within the land reform framework, and bootleg tenancy appears. In Colombia, for example, existing land reform legislation leaves small absentee owners untouched (although the cost of absentee ownership has been increased through threat of expropriation at declared tax values), thus exerting indirect influence on land use intensity.

The economic consequences of land reform depend very much on whether or not market forces are to be allowed to operate in determining combinations of resources, choices of enterprises, and scale of operation. Can land be transferred? Will market prices influence allocation of land to different uses or influence shifts in size of firm? Are farmers bound to their lands by new bonds that restrict occupational choice?

Release of productive potential is one of the greatest promises of land reform. It is in this sense that experiences in Japan, Taiwan, and Egypt are most significant. Agricultural productivity was already high when these three countries undertook land reform between 1946 and 1952. Yet in Egypt the index of gross agricultural output (1935 = 100) rose from 106 in 1951–1952 to 135 in 1962. In Japan the agricultural productivity index (1934 = 100) rose from 106 in 1940 to 157 in 1964. In Taiwan the aggregate agricultural output index rose from 100 in 1951 to 221 in 1964 (to 184, for crops only). Many factors contributed to these performance records, but there is general consensus that land reform was one of the most powerful driving forces.

Philip M. Raup

[See alsoAgriculture, especially the articles onCapital, DevelopingCountries, andProduction; Communism, EconomicOrganizationOf, article OnAgriculture; Credit, article OnAgriculturalCredit.]


Conference ON World Land Tenure Problems, University OF Wisconsin, 1951 1956 Land Tenure: Proceedings. Edited by K. H. Parsons, R. J. Penn, and P. M. Raup. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

Dore, Ronald P. 1959 Land Reform in Japan. Oxford Univ. Press.

Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas 1960 Economic Theory and Agrarian Economics. Oxford Economic Papers New Series 12:1–40.

Hagen, Everett E. (1962) 1964 On the Theory of Social Change: How Economic Growth Begins. London: Tavistock.

International Labor Office 1965 Agrarian Reform With Particular Reference to Employment and Social Aspects. Report 6, Forty-ninth Session, International Labour Conference. Geneva: The Office.

Jacoby, Erich H. 1961 Agrarian Unrest in Southeast Asia. 2d ed., rev. & enl. New York: Asia Publishing House. → The first edition was published in 1949.

Meade, James E.(1964) 1965 Efficiency, Equality, and the Ownership of Property. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Mingay, G. E. 1963 English Landed Society in the Eighteenth Century. London: Routledge.

Sawada, Shuiiro 1964 [A Book Review of] Bruce F. Johnston, Agricultural Development and Economic Transformation: A Comparative Study of the Japanese Experience. Rural Economic Problems 1, no. 2:88–92.

Tuma, Elias H. 1965 Twenty-six Centuries of Agrarian Reform: A Comparative Analysis. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

United Nations, Economic And Social Council 1966 Progress in Land Reform, Fourth Report. New York: United Nations.

Warriner, Doreen 1962 Land Reform and Development in the Middle East: A Study of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. 2d ed. Oxford Univ. Press. → The first edition was published in 1957.

Wickizer, V. D. 1960 The Smallholder in Tropical Export Crop Production. Stanford University, Food Research Institute, Food Research Institute Studies 1: 49–99.

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land tenure

land tenure. Land could be held in a number of ways. Theoretically all land was owned ultimately by the crown, but most of it has been ‘sold’ to private individuals or public bodies. Since the disappearance of feudal tenure in the Middle Ages, most land has been ‘let’ to tenants, in a variety of different forms. Of these the best known is ‘rack rent’, in which land and buildings are let by the owner to a tenant for what is agreed by both parties to be a fair economic rent, reflecting its real value. However, this has been universal in England only since the abolition of copyhold in 1926, and prior to that time various other forms of tenure existed, usually based on time (three lives, 99 years, lifeleasehold)—or type of holding (copyhold, customaryhold). Under both systems the tenant paid a nominal rent but ensured the continuance of the holding through fines and other dues, enjoying virtual security of tenure as a result. These tenancies were particularly suited to non-inflationary periods and to estates over which the landlord wished to exercise little or no supervision. By the 18th and 19th cents. they were gradually being abolished, usually by the landlord refusing to insert new lives in a lease, or to accept payment of the traditional renewal fine. However, they remained in place through much of northern and western England well into the 19th cent., and on the estates of institutions such as Oxbridge colleges.

In Scotland, two forms of land-leasing were common: co-joint tenancy in which all the tenants on a farm were responsible for its cultivation and rent payment; and an alternative system in which several cultivators of a single farm each had a separate lease (or ‘standing’) for which they were responsible. The latter was the multiple tenancy farm. The early 18th cent. saw a decisive move, particularly in the Lowlands, towards the single tenancy which made enclosure and related innovations easier to obtain.

John Beckett

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socage a feudal tenure of land involving payment of rent or other non-military service to a superior. Recorded from Middle English, the word comes from Anglo-Norman French soc, a variant of soke.

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socage (hist.) tenure by service other than knight-service. XIV. — AN. socage, f. soc SOKE; see -AGE.

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land tenure

land tenure: see tenure, in law.

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socage: see tenure.

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