Land redistribution as a poverty alleviation strategy

At a very general level, land reform, like most politico-economic policies, can be said to be driven by considerations of either efficiency or equity, and sometimes both.

Efficiency-biased arguments for land reform are typically driven by notions of economic transformation and are associated politically with well-established regimes whose aspirations go beyond the agrarian sector – this typically implies taking on’ landowners or producers in the agricultural sector, be they feudalistic landlords or peasants: Prussia and Ireland in the nineteenth century come to mind, as do the communist examples of China and the Soviet Union in the twentieth, and the capitalist cases of Taiwan and South Korea.

Efficiency arguments are rarely concerned with equity within the agrarian economy, as their promoters typically have their sights on broader objectives, e.g. extracting food and value for the urban-industrial economy or enhancing the power of the state.

Redistribution is one version of land and agrarian reform, but it has not been the most common historically. Many of the major land reforms of the world have been of the ‘land to the tiller’ variety, affecting one dimension of agrarian structure – the ownership of property – but leaving others relatively intact, as former tenants or peasants end up cultivating the same, or somewhat expanded, plots as before. What has changed is the relationship of the producers to the land and to other classes, with enhanced opportunities for accumulation.

Only in very exceptional cases – such as parts of eastern Europe in the wake of the First World War, and Spain during the civil war – have large productive farms been turned into worker or peasant collectives with little or no involvement by the state, and these have rarely lasted for long after the exceptional conditions that brought them about have passed.

This has since occurred to some extent in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, but usually in the form of ‘accumulation from above’, making it quite different from most historical land reforms in the absence of any claims to equality or poverty alleviation. Lack of clarity around the aims of land reform and a lack of reliable information about its performance, make it particularly difficult to evaluate.

This, in turn, can be traced back to contradictions at the heart of land reform policy in South Africa – that extends to the relationship, if any, to poverty alleviation.



source:Griffin, K. 1974. The political economy of agrarian change. London: Macmillan.REDISTRIBUTIVE LAND REFORM AND POVERTY REDUCTION IN SOUTH AFRICA byEdwardlahiffin

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