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land tenure

  The system of ownership of land and of title to its use, generally in agriculture. Land ownership is usually relatively straightforward compared with rights to use land. Types of land tenure may be classified according to their legal basis; the relative rights of landowner and land-user; the conditions and forms of payment from the latter to the former, if any; and the security of tenants (defined either in terms of duration or of predictability). Many forms of tenure involve very complex combinations of use-rights.

The following are the most important types of land tenure:

Owner occupation. This can involve large-scale modern farms, where the owners utilize wage labour alongside their own; family farms; and peasant systems. In the last case, land ownership and use may be vested in a family group rather than a single individual. The continuity of owner occupation is affected by inheritance systems, whereby partible inheritance may lead to farm fragmentation, a problem that occurs less often under tenancy systems.

Tenancy.This is the most complex type of land tenure, embracing a wide variety of conditions. Tenancy involves the tenant repaying the landowner in some way for being granted the right to use land. Most frequently this payment is in one of three forms: (i) labour supply for work on land retained by the owners for their personal or institutional use, as in certain forms of feudalism; (ii) cash payment; or (iii) some form of sharecropping. Often the landowner\'s return on leasing the land is made up of a blend of these three elements.

Use right. This is characteristic of shifting cultivation, whereby the question of long-run land ownership is of no significance, and where an individual or communal group establishes a right to the land by using it. Many more intensive agricultural systems include elements of use-right over common land, especially for the grazing of animals.

Institutional with wage labour. Under this form of tenure land is owned by an institution, such as a private company, and agricultural production is the result of a contract employment system. The plantation is the commonest example of land held by this form of tenure.

Collectivist. Land is owned by some collectivist interest, such as the state or whole village (e.g. the ujamaa village of Tanzania; see also kibbutz), and individuals participate in a communal farming programme; they have shares in either the produce or the revenue from sales.

Land tenure systems, especially considered dynamically, are more complex than this simple classification allows, for five main reasons. First, individual tenures may not fall neatly into just one category. For example, a large landowner may farm some of the land and lease out the remainder. The largest estates held under this system, latifundia or hacienda estates, often involve the existence of very small tenant holdings, with the part of the estate kept for the landlord\'s own use being worked by day labourers. Likewise, the state farms that dominated agriculture in socialist countries at certain periods of the twentieth century can be thought of as an intermediate stage between the \'collectivist\' and \'institutional with wage labour\' systems of tenure: the land is state-owned (i.e. collectivist) but the farm workers are wage earners rather than participants in the produce of the farms (see also collective).

Secondly, many tenure systems are combinations of various tenure types. Thirdly, the relative frequency of different tenure types may not be the most important facet of a tenurial system. For example, Newby (1986) discusses how the legacy of previously dominant property relations can continue to have greater local effects on social and economic change than their contemporary significance might imply. Fourthly, it may be important to distinguish between the formal-legal components of tenurial relationships and the customary components. The latter are the informally accepted \'normal\' practices, but may be poorly protected in law at times of stress (Lane, 1998). Finally, agricultural property rights have become divided in new and more complex ways, as in western agriculture during the 1980s, necessitating more sophisticated geographical analyses. In particular, the diverging interests of various fractions of capital, and the growing indirect involvement of banking capital in landownership, via the accumulation of land as collateral for loans, have produced new interrelations between ownership, occupation, and use rights over agricultural property (Whatmore et al., 1990).

Issues of land tenure feature prominently in debates about both historical and contemporary agrarian change. Compared with earlier debates, however, current work examines land tenure less as a topic in itself than as a component of rural power relations in general (Cloke, 1989). Key historical debates concern the relationships between land tenure, enclosure, and broader social trends (Tawney, 1912; Snell, 1985; Allen, 1992); between land tenure and agricultural productivity (Campbell and Overton, 1991; Turner, Beckett and Afton, 1997); and between land tenures and the appearance of the agricultural landscape.

Active debates on actual or proposed land reform in many less developed countries mostly concern the break-up of very large estates, often focused on export crops, in favour of the redistribution of land to owner-occupiers or secure tenants concentrating on labour-intensive crops, especially food for domestic consumption (Cleary, 1996). Although such changes involve state planning not only of tenure but also of agricultural institutions and infrastructure, there are widely differing views as to the appropriate balance of state and market forces in new tenurial arrangements (Ghose, 1983; Smith, 1989; Harvey, 1990; Christodolou, 1990; Platteau, 1991).

While the preceding discussion draws on instances from around the contemporary world, the land tenures it covers all represent variants within broadly western traditions, and these are not universal or \'natural\'. As much geographical work on colonialism has emphasized, colonial encouragement of settler agricultures often imposed Europeanized landscapes, settlements, and tenures on native life which had \'never [been] associated with owned, fenced land and the reduced ecological diversity of cropped fields\' (Harris and Demeritt, 1997, p. 219), but for which \'use right\' is too simplistic a category (O\'Brien, 1997). (PDG)

References Allen, R.C. 1992: Enclosure and the yeoman. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Campbell, B.M.S. and Overton, M., eds, 1991: Land, labour and livestock: historical studies in European agricultural productivity. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Christodolou, D. 1990: The unpromised land: agrarian reform and conflict worldwide. London: Zed Books. Cleary, M. 1996: Tradition and reform: land tenure and rural development in south-east Asia. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Cloke, P. 1989: Rural geography and political economy. In R. Peet and N. Thrift, ed., New models in geography: the political economy perspective, volume 1. London: Unwin Hyman, 164-97. Ghose, A.K., ed., 1983: Agrarian reform in contemporary developing countries. London: Croom Helm. Goody, J., Thirsk, J. and Thompson, E.P., eds, 1976: Family and inheritance: rural society in western Europe 1200-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Harris, C. and Demeritt, D. 1997: Farming and rural life. In C. Harris, The Resettlement of British Columbia: essays on colonialism and geographical change. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 219-49. Harvey, N. 1990: The new agrarian movement in Mexico, 1979-1990. London: Institute of Latin American Studies. Lane, C., ed., 1998: Custodians of the commons: pastoral land tenure in east and west Africa. London: Earthscan. Newby, H.C., 1986: Locality and rurality: the restructuring of rural social relations. Regional Studies 20: 209-26. O\'Brien, J. 1997: Dispossession by degrees: Indian land and identity in Natick, Massachusetts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Platteau, J.-P. 1991: Formalization and privatization of land-rights in sub-Saharan Africa: a critique of current orthodoxies and structural adjustment programmes. London: Suntory-Toyota International Centre, London School of Economics. Smith, G.A. 1989: Livelihood and resistance: peasants and the politics of land in Peru. Berkeley: University of California Press. Snell, K.D.M. 1985: Annals of the labouring poor: social change and agrarian England 1660-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Tawney, R.H. 1912: The agrarian problem in the sixteenth century. London: Allen and Unwin. Turner, M.E., Beckett, J.V. and Afton, B. 1997: Agricultural rent in England 1690-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Whatmore, S., Munton, R. and Marsden, T. 1990: The rural restructuring process: emerging divisions of agricultural property rights. Regional Studies 24: 235-45.

Suggested Reading Whatmore et al. (1990).



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