Land reforms by country

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Agrarian reform and land reform has been a recurring theme of enormous consequence in world history — see, for example, the history of the Semproninan Law or Lex Sempronia agraria proposed by Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and passed by the Roman Senate (133 BC), which led to the social and political wars that ended the Roman Republic.

A historically important source of pressure for land reform has been the accumulation of significant property by tax-exempt individuals or entities. In ancient Egypt, the tax exemption for temple lands eventually drove almost all the good land into the hands of the priestly class, making them immensely rich (and leaving the world a stunning legacy of monumental temple architecture that still impresses several millennia later), but starving the government of revenue. In Rome, the land tax exemption for the noble senatorial families had a similar effect, leading to Pliny's famous observation that the latifundia (vast landed estates) had ruined Rome, and would likewise ruin the provinces. In the Christian world, this has frequently been true of churches and monasteries, a major reason that many of the French revolutionaries saw the Catholic Church as an accomplice of the landed aristocracy. In the Muslim world, land reforms such as that organized in Spain by al-Hurr in 718 have transferred property from Muslims to Christians, who were taxable by much higher rates.

In the modern world and in the aftermath of colonialism and the Industrial Revolution, land reform has occurred around the world, from the Mexican Revolution (1917; the revolution began in 1910) to Communist China to Bolivia (1952, 2006) to Zimbabwe and Namibia. Land reform has been especially popular as part of decolonization struggles in Africa and the Arab world, where it was part of the program for African socialism and Arab nationalism. Cuba has seen one of the most complete agrarian reforms in Latin America. Land reform was an important step in achieving economic development in many Third World countries since the post-World War II period, especially in the East Asian Tigers and "Tiger Cubs" nations such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Malaysia.

Since mainland China's economic reforms led by Deng Xiaoping land reforms have also played a key role in the development of the People's Republic of China, with the re-emergence of rich property developers in urban areas (though as in Hong Kong, land in China is not privately owned but leased from the state, typically on very long terms that allow substantial opportunity for private speculative gain).

Latin America[edit]

"The first liberating revolutions never destroyed the large landholding powers that always constituted a reactionary force and upheld the principle of servitude on the land. In most countries the large landholders realized they couldn't survive alone and promptly entered into alliances with the monopolies — the strongest and most ruthless oppressors of the Latin American peoples. U.S. capital arrived on the scene to exploit the virgin lands and later carried off, unnoticed, all the funds so 'generously' given, plus several times the amount originally invested in the 'beneficiary' country."

Che Guevara, Marxist revolutionary, 1961[1]
Children singing the Internationale, at the 20th Anniversary of Brazil's Landless Workers Movement


Getúlio Vargas, who rose to presidency in Brazil following the Brazilian Revolution of 1930, promised a land reform but reneged on his promise.

A first attempt to make a national scale reform was set up in the government of José Sarney (1985–1990), as a result of the strong popular movement that had contributed to the fall of the military government. According to the 1988 Constitution of Brazil, the government is required to "expropriate for the purpose of agrarian reform, rural property that is not performing its social function" (Article 184). However, the "social function" mentioned there is not well defined, and hence the so-called First Land Reform National Plan never was put into force.

Throughout the 1990s, the Landless Workers' Movement has led a strong campaign in favor of fulfilling the constitutional requirement to land reform. They also took direct action by forceful occupation of unused lands. Their campaign has managed to get some advances for the past 10 years, during the Fernando Cardoso and Lula da Silva administrations.


Before the Bolivian national revolution of 1952, land in Bolivia was unequally distributed — 92% of the cultivable land was held by estates of 1,000 hectares or more.[2]

On August 2, 1953, the MNR government led by president Víctor Paz Estenssoro decreed the Agrarian Reform Law (Law Decree 3464). The law abolished forced peasantry labor, and established a program of expropriation and distribution of the rural property of the traditional landlords to the Indian peasants. Only estates with low productivity were completely distributed. More productive small and medium-sized farms were allowed to keep part of their land and were encouraged to invest new capital to increase agricultural production. The Agrarian Reform Law also provided for compensation for landlords to be paid in the form of twenty-five-year government bonds. The amount of compensation was based on the value of the property declared for taxes.[3]

At first, the government was unable to control the occupation of land by the peasants. As a result, it could not enforce the provisions of the land reform decree to keep medium-sized productive estates intact. But the MNR eventually gained the support of the campesinos when the Ministry of Peasant Affairs was created and when peasants were organized into syndicates. Peasants were not only granted land but their militias also were given large supplies of arms. The peasants remained a powerful political force in Bolivia during all subsequent governments.[3]

However, in 1970 only 45% of peasant families had received title to land, although more land reform projects continued in the 1970s and 1980s.

A 1996 Agrarian Reform Law (also Spanish: Ley INRA) increased protection for smallholdings and indigenous territories, but also protected absentee landholders who pay taxes from expropriation.[4] Bolivian president Evo Morales restarted land reform when he took office in 2006.[5]

On 29 November 2006, the Bolivian Senate passed a bill authorizing the government redistribution of land among the nation's mostly indigenous poor. The bill was signed into law hours later, though significant opposition is expected[6]


Main article: Chilean land reform

Attempts at land reform began under the government of Jorge Alessandri in 1960, were accelerated during the government of Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964–1970), and reached its climax during the 1970-1973 presidency of Salvador Allende. Farms of more than 198 acres (80 hectares) were expropriated. After the 1973 coup the process was halted, and up to a point reversed by the market forces.


Alfonso López Pumarejo (1934–1938) passed the Law 200 of 1936, which allowed for the expropriation of private properties, in order to promote "social interest".

Later attempts declined, until the National Front presidencies of Alberto Lleras Camargo (1958–1962) and Carlos Lleras Restrepo (1966–1970), which respectively created the Colombian Institute for Agrarian Reform (INCORA) and further developed land entitlement. In 1968 and 1969 alone, the INCORA issued more than 60,000 land titles to farmers and workers.

Despite this, Matsetela (2000) stated that the process was then halted and the situation began to reverse itself, as the subsequent violent actions of drug lords, paramilitaries, guerrillas and opportunistic large landowners severely contributed to a renewed concentration of land and to the displacement of small landowners.

In the early 21st century, tentative government plans to use the land legally expropriated from drug lords and/or the properties given back by demobilized paramilitary groups have not caused much practical improvement yet.


Land reform was among the chief planks of the revolutionary platform of 1959. Almost all large holdings were seized by the National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA), which dealt with all areas of agricultural policy. A ceiling of 166 acres (67 hectares) was established, and tenants were given ownership rights, though these rights are constrained by government production quotas and a prohibition of real estate transactions.

See also: Economy of Cuba, Constitution of Cuba.


Land reform occurred during the "Ten Years of Spring" (1944–1954) under the governments of Juan José Arévalo and Jacobo Arbenz—particularly after Decree 900, passed in 1952. It has been remarked that it was one of the most successful land reforms in history, given that it was relatively thorough and had minimal detrimental effects on the economy and on the incomes of wealthy classes (who were mostly spared because only uncultivated land was expropriated).

The reforms were reversed entirely after a US-backed coup deposed the Arbenz government.[7]


The first land reform was driven by Ley Lerdo (the Lerdo Law of 1856), enacted by the liberals during the Reform War of the 1850s. One of the aims of the reform government was to develop the economy by returning to productive cultivation the underutilized lands of the Church and the municipal communities (Indian commons), which required the distribution of these lands to small owners. This was to be accomplished through the provisions of Ley Lerdo that prohibited ownership of land by the Church and the municipalities.[8] The reform government also financed its war effort by seizing and selling church property and other large estates.

After the war the principles of the Ley Lerdo were perverted by Pres. Porfirio Diaz, which contributed to causing the Mexican Revolution in 1910. A certain degree of land reform was introduced, albeit unevenly, as part of the Mexican Revolution.

President Lázaro Cárdenas passed the 1934 Agrarian Code and accelerated the pace of land reform. He helped redistribute 45,000,000 acres (180,000 km2) of land, 4,000,000 acres (16,000 km2) of which were expropriated from American owned agricultural property. This caused conflict between Mexico and the United States. Agrarian reform had come close to extinction in the early 1930s. The first few years of the Cárdenas' reform were marked by high food prices, falling wages, high inflation, and low agricultural yields. In 1935 land reform began sweeping across the country in the periphery and core of commercial agriculture. The Cárdenas alliance with peasant groups was awarded by the destruction of the hacienda system. Cárdenas distributed more land than all his revolutionary predecessors put together, a 400% increase. The land reform justified itself in terms of productivity; average agricultural production during the three-year period from 1939 to 1941 was higher than it had been at any time since the beginning of the revolution.[9]

Starting with the government of Miguel Alemán (1946–52), land reform steps made in previous governments were rolled back. Alemán's government allowed capitalist entrepreneurs to rent peasant land. This created phenomenon known as neolatifundismo, where land owners build up large-scale private farms on the basis of controlling land which remains ejidal but is not sown by the peasants to whom it is assigned.

In 1970, President Luis Echeverría began his term by declaring land reform dead. In the face of peasant revolt, he was forced to backtrack, and embarked on the biggest land reform program since Cárdenas. Echeverría legalized take-overs of huge foreign-owned private farms, which were turned into new collective ejidos.

In 1988, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari was elected. In December 1991, he amended Article 27 of the Constitution, making it legal to sell ejido land and allow peasants to put up their land as collateral for a loan.

Francisco Madero and Emiliano Zapata were strongly identified with land reform, as are the present-day (as of 2006) Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

Today, most Mexican peasants are landowners. However, their holdings are usually too small, and farmers must supplement their incomes by working for the remaining landlords, and/or traveling to the United States.

See also: México Indígena (2005-2008 project)


During and after the Nicaraguan Revolution (1979), the Sandinista government officially announced their political platform which included land reform.

The last months of Sandinista rule were criticized for the Piñata Plan which distributed large tracts of land to prominent Sandinistas. After their loss in the 1990 elections, most of the Sandinista leaders held most of the private property and businesses that had been confiscated and nationalized by the FSLN government. This process became known as the "piñata" and was tolerated by the new Chamorro government.


Land reform in the 1950s largely eliminated a centuries-old system of debt peonage.

Further land reform occurred after the 1968 coup by left-wing colonel Juan Velasco Alvarado. The more radical effects of this reform were reversed by president Fernando Belaúnde Terry in the 1980s.

A third land reform occurred as part of a counterterrorism effort against the Shining Path during the Internal conflict in Peru roughly 1988–1995, led by Hernando de Soto and the Institute for Liberty and Democracy during the early years of the government of Alberto Fujimori, before the latter's auto-coup.


Main article: Mission Zamora

In 2001, Hugo Chávez's government enacted Plan Zamora to redistribute government and unused private land to campesinos in need.

The plan met with heavy opposition which lead to a coup attempt in 2002. When Pedro Carmona took over the presidency during that event, he reversed the land reform. However, the reversal was declared null when the coup failed and Chávez returned to power.

By the end of 2003, 60,000 families had received temporary title to a total of 55,000 km² of land under this plan.

Middle East and North Africa[edit]

See also: Arab Socialism
photo of the Shah distributing land deeds during Iran's White Revolution

Ottoman Empire[edit]

The Ottoman Land Code of 1858 (1274 in the Islamic Calendar)was the beginning of a systematic land reform programme started during the Tanzimat period by Sultan Abdülmecid I of the Ottoman Empire during the latter half of the 19th Century, with the overall aims of increasing state revenue generated from land and for the state to be able to have greater control over individual plots of land. This was followed by the 1873 land emancipation act.


Initially, Egyptian land reform essentially abolished the political influence of major land owners. However, land reform only resulted in the redistribution of about 15% of Egypt's land under cultivation, and by the early 1980s, the effects of land reform in Egypt drew to a halt as the population of Egypt moved away from agriculture. The Egyptian land reform laws were greatly curtailed under Anwar Sadat and eventually abolished.


Main article: White Revolution

Significant land reform in Iran took place under the Shah as part of the socio-economic reforms of the White Revolution, begun in 1962, and agreed upon through a public referendum. At this time the Iranian economy was not performing well and there was political unrest. Essentially, the land reforms amounted to a huge redistribution of land to rural peasants who previously had no possibility of owning land as they were poorly paid labourers. The land reforms continued from 1962 until 1971 with three distinct phases of land distribution: private, government-owned and endowed land. These reforms resulted in the newly created peasant landowners owning six to seven million hectares, around 52-63% of Iran's agricultural land. According to Country-Data, even though there had been a considerable redistribution of land, the amount received by individual peasants was not enough to meet most families' basic needs, "About 75 percent of the peasant owners [however] had less than 7 hectares, an amount generally insufficient for anything but subsistence agriculture.".[10] By 1979 a quarter of prime land was in disputed ownership and half of the productive land was in the hands of 200,000 absentee landlords[10] The large land owners were able to retain the best land with the best access to fresh water and irrigation facilities. In contrast, not only were the new peasant land holdings too small to produce an income but the peasants also lacked both quality irrigation system and sustained government support to enable them to develop their land to make a reasonable living. Set against the economic boom from oil revenue it became apparent that the Land Reforms did not make life better for the rural population: according to Amid, "..only a small group of rural people experienced increasing improvements in their welfare and poverty remained the lot of the majority".[11] Moghadam argues[citation needed] that the structural changes to Iran, including the land reforms, initiated by the White Revolution, contributed to the revolution in 1979 which overthrew the Shah and turned Iran into an Islamic republic.


Under British Mandate, Iraq's land was moved from communal land owned by the tribe to tribal sheikhs that agreed to work with the British. Known as compradors, these families controlled much of Iraq's arable land until the end of British rule in 1958. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, more and more land began to be centered in the hands of just a couple families. By 1958 eight individual families owned almost 1 million acres. However, the British did attempt to instill some reforms to increase the productivity of the land in Iraq. In 1926 the Pump Law was introduced, essentially legislating that all newly irrigate land would be tax free for 4 years. This led to some short term gains in land productivity. If land was cultivated for 15 years, it then became your own property. From 1914 to 1943 there was an increase from 1 million to 4.25 million acres of land developed. Unfortunately, irrigation of the land was irresponsible, and many farmers didn't allow for drainage, which led to a buildup of salt and minerals in the land, killing its productivity.[12]

In 1958 the rise of the Communist Party led to the seizing of much of the land by the Iraqi government. Landholdings were capped at 600 acres in arable areas and 1200 acres in areas that had rainfall. The concentrated landholdings by the state were then redistributed among the populace, in amounts of 20 acres in irrigated land, with 40 acres in land with rainfall.

In 1970, the Ba'th Party, led by Saddam Hussein began instituting a wide series of sweeping land reforms. The intent of the reforms was to remove control of land owned by the traditional rural elites and redistribute it to peasant families. Modeled after the 1958 land reforms, much of the state land was rented out, though often to people who originally owned the large swathes of land. The key to this new reform was the Agrarian Reform Law of 1970.Between 1970 and 1982, 264,400 farmers received grants of land. However, these reforms did not contribute to an improvement in the production of agricultural goods, leading the regime to increase its imports of food products.[13]


As elsewhere in North Africa, lands formerly held by European farmers have been taken over. The nationalisation of agricultural land in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia led to the departure of the majority of Europeans.[14]


Land reforms were first implemented in Syria during 1958. The Agricultural Relations Law laid down a redistribution of rights in landownership, tenancy and management.

The reforms were halted in 1961 due to a culmination of factors, including opposition from large landowners and severe crop failure during a drought between 1958 and 1961, whilst Syria was a member of the doomed United Arab Republic (UAR).

After the Ba'ath Party gained power in 1963 the reforms were resumed. The reforms were portrayed by the governing Ba'ath as politically motivated to benefit the rural property-less communities. According to Zaki al-Arsuzi, a co-founder of the Ba'ath Party, the reforms would "liberate 75 percent of the Syrian population and prepare them to be citizens qualified to participate in the building of the state".[15]

It has been argued that the land reform represented work by the 'socialist government', however, by 1984 the private sector controlled 74 percent of Syria's arable land.[16] This questions both Ba'ath claims of commitment to the redistribution of land to the majority of peasants as well as the state government being socialist (if it allowed the majority of land to be owned in the private sector how could it truly be socialist?). Hinnebusch argued that the reforms were a way of galvanising support from the large rural population: "they [Ba'ath Party members] used the implementation of agrarian reform to win over and organise peasants and curb traditional power in the countryside".[17] To this extent the reforms succeeded and resulted with an increase in Ba'ath party membership. They also prevented political threat emerging from rural areas by bringing the rural population into the system as supporters.


See also: The Land Reform of 1919–1940: Lithuania and the Countries of East and Central Europe.


Albania has gone through three waves of land reform since the end of World War II: in 1946, the land in estates and large farms was expropriated by the communist government and redistributed among small peasants; in the 1950s, the land was reorganized into large-scale collective farms; and after 1991, the land was again redistributed among private smallholders.

At the end of World War II, the farm structure in Albania was characterized by high concentration of land in large farms. In 1945, farms larger than 10 hectares, representing numerically a mere 3% of all farms in the country, managed 27% of agricultural land and just seven large estates (out of 155,000 farms) controlled 4% of agricultural land, averaging more than 2,000 hectares each, compared to the average farm size of 2.5 hectares at that time.[18] The first post-war constitution of independent Albania (March 1946) declared that land belonged to the tiller and that large estates under no circumstances could be owned by private individuals (article 10). The post-war land reform of 1946 redistributed 155,000 hectares (40% of the land stock) from 19,355 relatively large farms (typically larger than 5 hectares) to 70,211 small farms and landless households.[18] As a result, the share of large farms with more than 10 hectares declined from 27% of agricultural land in 1945 to 3% in 1954. By 1954, more than 90% of land was held in small and mid-sized farms of between 1 hectare and 10 hectares.

The distributive effects of the post-war land reform were eliminated by the collectivization drive of the late 1950s-early 1960s, and by 1962 less than 18% of agricultural land had remained in family farms and household plots, while the rest had shifted to Soviet-style collective and state farms).[18] By 1971, independent family farms had virtually disappeared and individual farming survived only in household plots cultivated part-time by cooperative members (approximately 6% of agricultural land).

The post-communist land reform begun in 1991 as part of the transition to the market was in effect a replay of the 1946 land reform, and the arable land held in cooperatives and state farms was equally distributed among all rural households without regard to pre-communist ownership rights. Contrary to other transition countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Albania adopted a distributive land reform (like the CIS) and did not restitute land to former owners. The post-communist land reform of the 1990s was accompanied by special land privatization legislation, as Albania was the only country outside the former Soviet Union that had nationalized all agricultural land (in stages between 1946 and 1976).[19]


In October 1991, shortly after Estonia received its independence from the former Soviet Union, the Estonian parliament approved the 'Law on Land Reform'. This law regulated the transformation of land from state ownership to private owners. The main principles of this process were the restitution of property rights of land owners before the 1940 Soviet occupation, and the protection of the legal rights of the present users of land. The law envisaged that a rather wide circle of heirs of the former owner would be eligible to submit a claim for land. The law also fixed compensation for the full amount of land at June 1940 values.[20]

Presently, a Land Value Tax is levied, which is used to fund local municipalities. It is a state level tax, however 100% of the revenue is used to fund Local Councils. The rate is set by the Local Council within the limits of 0.1-2.5%.[21]


Main article: Irish Land Acts

At the 19th century, most of the land in Ireland belonged to large landowners, most of them of English origin. Most of the Irish population were tenants, having few rights and forced to pay high rents. This situation was one of the main causes to the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852 and to the Land War of 1870s-1890s.

The governments of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland responded to the agitations in Ireland with a series of land acts, beginning with the First Irish Land Act 1870 (initiated by prime minister William Ewart Gladstone), followed by further five land acts overseen by a Land Commission, prior to independence in 1922, by which time over 90% of lands had transferred from landlords to their former tenant farmers on negotiated terms with funding provided by the UK government.

Russia and the Soviet Union[edit]

The Emancipation reform of 1861, effected during the reign of Alexander II of Russia, abolished serfdom throughout Russia. More than 23 million people received their liberty. Serfs were granted the full rights of free citizens, gaining the rights to marry without having to gain consent, to own property and to own a business. The Manifesto prescribed that peasants would be able to buy the land from the landlords.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the vast majority of Russian peasants held their land in communal ownership within peasant communities called mirs, which acted as village governments and cooperatives. Arable land was divided in sections based on soil quality and distance from the village. Each household had the right to claim one or more strips from each section depending on the number of adults in the household.

This communal system was abolished in 1906 by the capitalist-oriented Stolypin reforms. The reforms introduced the unconditional right of individual landownership. They encouraged peasants to buy their share of the community lands, leave the communities and settle in privately owned settlements called Khutors. By 1910 the share of private settlements among all rural households in the European part of Russia was estimated at 10.5%.

The Stolypin reforms and the majority of their benefits were reversed after the communist revolution of 1917. The Decree on Land, issued by Lenin at 1917, and the "Fundamental Law of Land Socialization" of 1918, decreed that private ownership of land is totally abolished - land may not be sold, purchased, leased, mortgaged, or otherwise alienated. All land, whether state, crown, monastery, church, factory, entailed, private, public, peasant, etc., shall be confiscated without compensation and become the property of the whole people, and pass into the use of all those who cultivate it. These decrees were superseded by the 1922 Land Code. After the universal agricultural collectivization, land codes of the Soviet republics lost their significance.

After the collapse of the USSR, a new land code was enacted, allowing private land ownership. land-code reform of 2001, advanced by the administration of Putin, called for the ownership of real estate objects to henceforth follow ownership of the attached land plot; granted exclusive right to purchase or lease state-owned land to the owner of the attached real estate object; gave to private owners of buildings on land plots owned by other private parties the preemptive right to purchase the land; and prohibited the future privatization of real estate objects without the concurrent privatization of the attached plot.


The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 ends the historic legacy of feudal law and creates a framework for rural or croft communities right to buy land in their area.

The third part of the Act gives crofting communities the right to acquire and control the croft land where they live and work, even without requiring the consent of the landowner. This right decisively changes the balance of power between the crofting community and the landowner.


In 1757, the general reparcelling out of land began. In this process, the medieval principle of dividing all the fields in a village into strips, each belonging to a farm, was changed into a principle of each farm consisting of a few relatively large areas of land. The land was redistributed in proportion to earlier possession of land, while uninhabited forests far from villages were socialized (see Agriculture in Sweden#History).

In the 20th century, Sweden, almost non-violently, arrived at regulating the length minimum of tenant farming contracts at 25 years.



Historically, Ethiopia was divided into the northern highlands, which constituted the core of the old Christian kingdom, and the southern highlands, most of which were brought under imperial rule by conquest. In the northern regions, the major form of ownership was a type of communal system known as rist. According to this system, all descendants of an individual founder were entitled to a share, and individuals had the right to use a plot of family land. Rist was hereditary, inalienable, and inviolable. No user of any piece of land could sell his or her share outside the family or mortgage or bequeath his or her share as a gift, as the land belonged not to the individual but to the descent group. Most peasants in the northern highlands held at least some rist land. Absentee landlordism was rare, and landless tenants were estimated at only about 20% of holdings. On the contrary, in the southern provinces, few farmers owned the land on which they worked. After the conquest, officials divided southern land equally among the state, the church, and the indigenous population. Tenancy in the southern provinces ranged between 65% and 80% of the holdings, and tenant payments to landowners averaged as high as 50% of the produce. In the easternlowland periphery and the Great Rift Valley, most land were used for grazing. The pastoral social structure is based on a kinship system with strong interclan connections; grazing and water rights are regulated by custom.

Beginning in the 1950s, the government tried to modernize the agriculture by granting large tracts of traditional grazing lands to large corporations and converting them into large-scale commercial farms. In the north and south, peasant farmers lacked the means to improve production because of the fragmentation of holdings, a lack of credit, and the absence of modern facilities. Particularly in the south, the insecurity of tenure and high rents killed the peasants' incentive to improve production. Further, those attempts by the Imperial government to improve the peasant's title to their land were often met with suspicion. By the mid-1960s, many sectors of Ethiopian society favored land reform. University students led the land reform movement and campaigned against the government's reluctance to introduce land reform programs and the lack of commitment to integrated rural development.

In 1974, The socialist Derg government rose to power, and on March 4, 1975, the Derg announced its land reform program. The government nationalized rural land without compensation, abolished tenancy, forbade the hiring of wage labor on private farms, ordered all commercial farms to remain under state control, and granted each peasant family so-called "possessing rights" to a plot of land not to exceed ten hectares. The Ethiopian Church lost all its land. Although the Derg gained little respect during its rule, this reform resulted in a rare show of support for the junta.

Tenant farmers in southern Ethiopia welcomed the land reform, but in the northern highlands many people resisted land reform and perceived it as an attack on their rights to rist land. The lowland peripheries were only slightly affected by the reforms.

The land reform destroyed the feudal order; changed landowning patterns, particularly in the south, in favor of peasants and small landowners; and provided the opportunity for peasants to participate in local matters by permitting them to form associations.


In the 1960s, president Jomo Kenyatta launched a peaceful land reform program based on "willing buyer-willing seller". It was funded by Britain, the former colonial power.

In 2006, president Mwai Kibaki said it will repossess all land owned by "absentee landlords" in the coastal strip and redistribute it to squatters.[22]


Namibia's colonial past had resulted in a situation where about 20% of the population (mostly white settlers) owned about 75 percent of all the land. [23]

In 1990, shortly after Namibia got its independence, its first president Sam Nujoma initiated a plan for land reform, in which land would be redistributed from whites to blacks. legislation passed in September 1994, with a compulsory, compensated approach.[24] The land reform has been slow, mainly because Namibia's constitution only allows land to be bought from farmers willing to sell. Also, the price of land is very high in Namibia, which further complicates the matter.

By 2007, Some 12% of the total commercial farmland in the country was taken away from white farmers and given to black citizens.

South Africa[edit]

The Natives' Land Act of 1913 "prohibited the establishment of new farming operations, sharecropping or cash rentals by blacks outside of the reserves"[25] where they were forced to live.

In 1991, after a long anti-apartheid struggle lead by the African National Congress, State President F. W. de Klerk declared the repeal of several apartheid rules, particularly: the Population Registration Act, the Group Areas and the Natives' Land Act. A catch-all Abolition of Racially Based Land Measures Act was passed.[26] These measures ensured no one could claim, or be deprived of, any land rights on the basis of race.

In 1994, shortly after the African National Congress came to power in South Africa, it initiated a land reform process focused on three areas: restitution, land tenure reform and land redistribution.[25][27] Restitution, where the government compensates (monetary) individuals who had been forcefully removed, has been very unsuccessful and the policy has now shifted to redistribution.

Initially, land was bought from its owners (willing seller) by the government (willing buyer) and redistributed, in order to maintain public confidence in the land market.[25] This system has proved to be very difficult to implement, because many owners do not actually see the land they are purchasing and are not involved in the important decisions made at the beginning of the purchase and negotiation.

In 2000 the South African Government decided to review and change the redistribution and tenure process to a more decentralized and area based planning process. The idea is to have local integrated development plans in 47 districts. This will hopefully mean more community participation and more redistribution taking place, but there are also various concerns and challenges with this system too.[28]


By 1979, when Zimbabwe gained independence, 46.5% of the country's arable land was owned by around 6,000 commercial farmers,[29] and white farmers, who made up less than 1% of the population, owned 70% of the best farming land.[30]

As part of the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979, president Robert Mugabe initiated a "willing buyer, willing seller" plan, in which white land-owners were encouraged to sell their lands to the government, with partial funding from Britain.[31] Around 71,000 families (perhaps 500,000 people) settled on 3.5 million hectares of former white-owned land under this programme, which was described by "The Economist" in 1989 as "perhaps the most successful aid programme in Africa".[32]

The 1992 Land Acquisition Act was enacted to speed up the land reform process by removing the "willing seller, willing buyer" clause, limiting the size of farms and introducing a land tax (although the tax was never implemented.)[33] The Act empowered the government to buy land compulsorily for redistribution, and a fair compensation was to be paid for land acquired. Landowners could challenge in court the price set by the acquiring authority. Opposition by landowners increased throughout the period of 1992 to 1997. In the 1990s, less than 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres) were acquired, and fewer than 20,000 families were resettled. Much of the land acquired during what has become known as "phase one" of land reform was of poor quality, according to Human Rights Watch. Only 19 percent of the almost 3.5 million hectares (8.65 million acres) of resettled land was considered prime, or farmable.

In 1997, the new British government, led by Tony Blair, unilaterally stopped funding the "willing buyer, willing seller" land reform programme. Britain's ruling Labour Party felt no obligation to continue paying white farmers compensation.

In 2000, a referendum on constitutional amendments was held. The proposed amendments called for a "fast track" land reform and allowed the government to confiscate white-owned land for redistribution to black farmers without compensation. The motion failed with 55% of participants against the referendum.[34] However, self-styled "war veterans", led by Chenjerai Hunzvi, began invading white-owned farms. Those who did not leave voluntarily were often tortured and sometimes killed.[35] On 6 April 2000, Parliament pushed through an amendment, taken word for word from the draft constitution that was rejected by voters, allowing the seizure of white-owned farmlands without due reimbursement or payment.[36] In this first wave of farm invasions, a total of 110,000 square kilometres of land had been seized.

Parliament, dominated by Zanu-PF, passed a constitutional amendment, signed into law on 12 September 2005, that nationalised farmland acquired through the "Fast Track" process and deprived original landowners of the right to challenge in court the government's decision to expropriate their land.[37] The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe ruled against legal challenges to this amendment.[38]

During the "fast track", many parcels of land came under the control of people close to the government, as is the case throughout Africa. The several forms of forcible change in management caused a severe drop in production and other economic disruptions.

North America[edit]


A land reform was carried out as part of Prince Edward Island's agreement to join the Canadian Confederation in 1873. Most of the land was owned by absentee landlords in England, and as part of the deal Canada was to buy all the land and give it to the farmers.

United States – South[edit]

Following the U.S. Civil War, many blacks and military officials considered land reform vital. The downfall of the Confederacy emancipated millions, but few former slaves had the means to exercise real autonomy. Land, even at depressed post-war prices, was difficult for African Americans to procure.[39] At the same time, with southern wealth the result of centuries of forced labor, blacks nationwide called for property on the basis of just reparations.[40] Politically, redistribution carried the support of Radical Republicans.[41] But opposing any grants to blacks were racist southern Democrats, along with a White House committed to 'restoration'.[42][43] Given national divisions, reform efforts were varied but short-lived.

Many African Americans believed property was critical to erasing slave-oriented social order.[44] In addition to speaking out, some demanded plots and moved into their master’s plantation homes by force.[45] Others bought land collectively, or squatted on what was undeveloped.[46] Throughout war and Reconstruction, the presence of Federal troops provided a platform for agricultural policy. In 1865, William Tecumseh Sherman issued Field Order 15, taking coastal land in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, and dividing it into 40-acre plots for black settlement, hence the term "40 acres and a mule".[47]

In March, Congress established the Freedmen’s Bureau, whose commissioner had authority to redistribute confiscated or abandoned southern land.[48] The Bureau held 850,000 acres (3,400 km2), and key directors pushed for its settling with former slaves. When President Andrew Johnson began to pardon Confederates and restore their property, Commissioner Oliver O. Howard issued Circular 13. The order instructed agents to establish 40-acre parcels with haste. Johnson rescinded the order, and an overwhelming majority of Bureau land returned to its previous owners.[49]

The final reform attempts of Reconstruction occurred within state governments. In South Carolina, a land commission was established, which purchased property and sold it on long-term credit.[50] Other state Republicans utilized new tax systems, penalizing large estates, to seize and divide land and stimulate black ownership. This indirect method achieved little, as taxes were repaid and lands were reclaimed. Of property not redeemed, much was exploited by investors.[51]

Ultimately, Reconstruction was discounted as 'Socialism' by moderates committed to free-market transformation, a popular new line of political attack[52] levied against the likes of Boss Tweed and Benjamin F. Butler alike.[53] Radicals began to fall even earlier, with the failure of Johnson’s impeachment. Liberal Republicans, eroding the era's political landscape, called for an immediate end to “black barbarism”.[54][55] White supremacist violence and financial panic[56] weakened Reconstruction to the breaking point. With the Compromise of 1877, it was finished.[57]

United States – West[edit]

Main article: Dawes Act

In the 19th century, Indian tribes owned about 138 million acres (560,000 km2) of land in the USA. Land was considered the property of the whole tribe, which used it to cater to the needs of the individual tribe members. This approach to land ownership was different than the white European approach, which regarded land as private property of individuals.[citation needed]

Many US politicians[who?] believed it was important to assimilate Native Americans into white American culture, and thus have their lands open for commerce and development. The Dawes Act (also known as the General Allotment Act or the Dawes Severalty Act), adopted by Congress in 1887, authorized the President of the United States to survey American Indian tribal land and divide it into allotments for individual Indians. Those who accepted allotments and lived separately from the tribe would be granted United States citizenship. The Dawes Act was amended in 1891, and again in 1906 by the Burke Act.

Through the Dawes Act, many Indians received private title to a land-plot, but most of the Indian lands were considered "surplus", and put to sale to white European settlers. Thus, the total amount of land owned by Indians decreased to only 48 million acres (190,000 km2) in 1934.[citation needed]

Most tribal land still owned by ethnic Indians was recollectivized in 1934.



Afghanistan has had a couple of attempts at land reform.

In 1975, the government of president Mohammad Daoud Khan responded to the inequities of the existing land tenure conditions by issuing a Land Reform Law. It limited individual holdings to a maximum of 20 hectares of irrigated, double-cropped land. Larger holdings were allowed for less productive land. The government was to expropriate all surplus land and pay compensation. To prevent the proliferation of small, uneconomic holdings, priority for redistributed lands was to be given to neighboring farmers with two hectares or less. Landless sharecroppers, laborers, tenants, and nomads had next priority. Despite the government's rhetorical commitment to land reform, the program was quickly postponed. Because the government's landholding limits applied to families, not individuals, wealthy families avoided expropriation by dividing their lands nominally between family members. The high ceilings for landholdings restricted the amount of land actually subject to redistribution. Finally, the government lacked the technical data and organizational bodies to pursue the program after it was announced.

After the 1978 Saur Revolution, the communist Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) issued Decree No. 6, which canceled gerau and other mortgage debts of agricultural laborers, tenants, and small landowners with less than two hectares of land. The cancellation applied only to debts contracted before 1973. The Decree No. 8 of November 1978 made new landholdings from the 20 hectares of prime irrigated land in the 1975 law to just six hectares. It divided all land into seven classes and again allowed for larger holdings of less productive land. There was no compensation for government-expropriated surplus land and it established categories of farmers who had priority for redistributed land; sharecroppers already working on the land had highest priority.[58][59]


China has been through a series of land reforms.

In the 1940s, the Sino-American Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction, funded with American money, with the support of the national government, carried out land reform and community action programs in several provinces.

in 1946, three years before the foundation of the People's Republic of China (PRC), The Communist Party of China launched a thorough land reform, which won the party millions of supporters among the poor and middle peasantry. The land and other property of landlords were expropriated and redistributed so that each household in a rural village would have a comparable holding. This agrarian revolution was made famous in the West by William Hinton's book Fanshen.

Ren Bishi, a member of the party's Central Committee, likewise stated in a 1948 speech that "30,000,000 landlords and rich peasants would have to be destroyed."[60] Shortly after the founding of the PRC, land reform, according to Mao biographer Philip Short, "lurched violently to the left" with Mao laying down new guidelines for "not correcting excesses prematurely."[61] Mao insisted that the people themselves, not the security organs, should become involved in the killing of landlords who had oppressed them.[61] This was quite different from Soviet practice, in which the NKVD would arrest counterrevolutionaries and then have them secretly executed and often buried before sunrise. Mao thought that peasants who killed landlords with their bare hands would become permanently linked to the revolutionary process in a way that passive spectators could not be.[61] Actual numbers killed in land reform are believed to have been lower, but did rank in the millions,[60] as there was a policy to select "at least one landlord, and usually several, in virtually every village for public execution."[62] R.J. Rummel, an analyst of government killings, or "democide", gives a "reasonably conservative figure" of about 4,500,000 landlords and better-off peasants killed.[60] Philip Short estimates that at least one to three million landlords and members of their families were killed, either beaten to death on the spot by enraged peasants at mass meetings organized by local communist party work teams or reserved for public execution later on.[61] Estimates abroad ranged as high as 28,000,000 deaths.[60] In 1976 the U.S. State department estimated that there may have been a million killed in the land reform;[63] Mao estimated that only 800,000 landlords were killed.[60]

In the mid-1950s, a second land reform during the Great Leap Forward compelled individual farmers to join collectives, which, in turn, were grouped into People's communes with centrally controlled property rights and an egalitarian principle of distribution. This policy was generally a failure in terms of production.[64] The PRC reversed this policy in 1962 through the proclamation of the Sixty Articles. As a result, the ownership of the basic means of production was divided into three levels with collective land ownership vested in the production team (see also Ho [2001]).

A third land reform beginning in the late 1970s re-introduced the family-based contract system known as the Household Responsibility System, which had enormous initial success, followed by a period of relative stagnation. Chen, Wang, and Davis [1998] suggest that the later stagnation was due, in part, to a system of periodic redistribution that encouraged over-exploitation rather than capital investment in future productivity.[64] However, although land use rights were returned to individual farmers, collective land ownership was left undefined after the disbandment of the People's Communes.

Since 1983, China has launched a series of land policy reforms to improve land-use efficiency, to rationalize land allocation, to enhance land management, and to coordinate urban and rural development. These land policy reforms have yielded positive impacts on urban land use as well as negative socioeconomic consequences. On the positive side, they have contributed to emerging land markets, increased government revenue for the financing of massive infrastructure projects and provision of public goods, and improved the rationalization of land use. On the negative side, problems such as loss of social equity, socioeconomic conflicts, and government corruption have emerged.[65]

Since 1998 China is in the midst of drafting the new Property Law which is the first piece of national legislation that will define the land ownership structure in China for years to come. The Property Law forms the basis for China's future land policy of establishing a system of freehold, rather than of private ownership (see also Ho, [2005]).


Main article: Land reform in India

Under the British occupation, the land system in India has been feudalic, with few absentee landlords holding most of the lands and claiming high rents from poor peasants. The demand for a land reform has been a major theme in the demand for independence. After independence, the different states in India gradually started a land reform process in four main categories: abolition of intermediaries (rent collectors under the pre-Independence land revenue system); tenancy regulation (to improve the contractual terms including security of tenure); a ceiling on landholdings (to redistribute surplus land to the landless); and attempts to consolidate disparate landholdings. The extent and success of these reforms varied greatly between the different states of India.


The first land reform in recent history, called the Land Tax Reform or chisokaisei (地租改正?) was passed in 1873, 6 years after the Meiji Restoration. It was a major restructuring of the previous land taxation system, and established the right of private land ownership in Japan for the first time.

The government initially ordered individual farmers to measure the plots of their land themselves, calculate their taxes, and submit the results to local tax officials. However, difficulties arose with the honesty of the measuring system and the government responded by forcefully changing land values to meet the set amount if values reported by farmers did not meet projected values. This caused widespread resentment among farmers and several large-scale riots, causing the government to lower the tax rate from 3% to 2.5%. The department's aggressive system continued through 1878, but the strictness of rules gradually decreased as it became clear that required amounts would be met. The reforms had taken complete effect by 1880, seven years after the start of the reforms.

Private land ownership was recognized for the first time in Japan with the issuing of land titles. previously, individual farmers were merely borrowing the land from feudal lords, who in turn were borrowing the land from the emperor. The reform abolished this archaic system of land ownership, and began to allow landowners to use their property as a financial asset in collateral or other investment. This law was one of the first steps towards the development of capitalism in Japan, paralleling the English (and later United Kingdom) statute Quia Emptores enacted several centuries earlier.

Another major land reform was carried out in 1947 (during the occupied era after World War II) under instructions of SCAP based on a proposal from the Japanese government which had been prepared before the defeat of the Greater Japanese Empire. This last reform is also called Nōchi-kaihō (農地解放,emancipation of farming land).

Between 1947 and 1949, approximately 5,800,000 acres (23,000 km2) of land (approximately 38% of Japan's cultivated land) were purchased from the landlords under the government's reform program and resold at extremely low prices (after inflation) to the farmers who worked them. By 1950, three million peasants had acquired land, dismantling a power structure that the landlords had long dominated.[66]


During the Macapagal Administration in the early 1960s, a limited land reform program was initiated in Central Luzon covering rice fields.

During the martial law era of the Ferdinand Marcos Administration, Presidential Decree 27 instituted a land reform program covering rice and corn farms. Rice and corn production under this land reform program was heavily supported by the Marcos Administration with land distribution and financing program known as the Masagana 99 and other production loans that led to increased rice and corn production. The country produced enough rice for local consumption and became a rice exporter during that period.

The Corazon Aquino Administration in the mid-1980s instituted a very controversial land reform known as CARP which covered all agricultural lands. The program led to rice shortages in the succeeding years and lasted for 20 years without accomplishing the goal of land distribution. The program caused entrepreneurs to stay away from agriculture and a number of productive farmers left the farming sector. The CARP was a monumental failure in terms of cost to the government and the landowners whose lands were subjective to legal landgrabbing by the government. CARP expired at the end of December 2008.[67]

Sri Lanka[edit]

In 1972, the Government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, through the Land Reform Law, imposed a ceiling of twenty hectares on privately owned land and sought to distribute lands in excess of the ceiling for the benefit of landless peasants. Both land owned by public companies and paddy lands under ten hectares in extent were exempted from this ceiling. Between 1972 and 1974, the Land Reform Commission took over nearly 228,000 hectares. In 1975 the Land Reform (Amendment) Law brought over 169,000 hectares of plantations owned by companies (including British-owned companies) under state control.[68]

South Korea[edit]

In 1945–1950, United States and South Korean authorities carried out a land reform that retained the institution of private property. They confiscated and redistributed all land held by the Japanese colonial government, Japanese companies, and individual Japanese colonists. The Korean government carried out a reform whereby Koreans with large landholdings were obliged to divest most of their land. A new class of independent, family proprietors was created.[69]


Main article: Land reform in Taiwan

In the 1950s, after the Nationalist government came to Taiwan, land reform and community development was carried out by the Sino-American Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction. This course of action was made attractive, in part, by the fact that many of the large landowners were Japanese who had fled, and the other large landowners were compensated with Japanese commercial and industrial properties seized after Taiwan reverted from Japanese rule in 1945. The land program succeeded also because the Kuomintang were mostly from the mainland and had few ties to the remaining indigenous landowners. See also: Taiwan Land Reform Museum


In the years after World War II, even before the formal division of Vietnam, land reform was initiated in North Vietnam. This land reform (1953–1956) redistributed land to more than 2 million poor peasants, but at a cost of from tens[70] to hundreds of thousands of lives[71] and was one of the main reason for the mass exodus of 1 million people from the North to the South in 1954. The probable democide for this four-year period then totals 283,000 North Vietnamese.[72]

South Vietnam made several further attempts in the post-Diem years, the most ambitious being the Land to the Tiller program instituted in 1970 by President Nguyen Van Thieu. This limited individuals to 15 hectares, compensated the owners of expropriated tracts, and extended legal title to peasants who in areas under control of the South Vietnamese government to whom had land had previously been distributed by the Viet Cong.



See also[edit]


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