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agrarian reform,redistribution of the agricultural resources of a country. Traditionally, agrarian, or land, reform is confined to the redistribution of land; in a broader sense it includes related changes in agricultural institutions, including credit, taxation, rents, and cooperatives. Although agrarian reform can result in lower agricultural productivity, especially if it includes collectivization, it may increase productivity when land is redistributed to the tiller. Pressure for modern land reform is most powerful in the underdeveloped nations. See also collective farmcollective farm,
an agricultural production unit including a number of farm households or villages working together under state control. The description of the collective farm has varied with time and place.
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Agrarian reform has been a recurrent theme in history. The Greek and Roman eras were filled with violent struggles between landowners and the landless. The land reform issue was a major factor in the Gracchian agrarian lawsagrarian laws,
in ancient Rome, the laws regulating the disposition of public lands (ager publicus).
It was the practice of Rome to confiscate part of the land of conquered cities and states, and this was made public land.
..... Click the link for more information. . During the Middle Ages, demands for land reform triggered peasant rebellions, including the Peasants' Revolt in England led by John Ball and Wat Tyler in 1381 and the German Peasants' WarPeasants' War,
1524–26, rising of the German peasants and the poorer classes of the towns, particularly in Franconia, Swabia, and Thuringia. It was the climax of a series of local revolts that dated from the 15th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. of 1524–26.
In the 20th cent. the Russian RevolutionRussian Revolution,
violent upheaval in Russia in 1917 that overthrew the czarist government. Causes
The revolution was the culmination of a long period of repression and unrest.
..... Click the link for more information. added a new dimension to agrarian reform—the socialization of agriculture (i.e., the collective ownership of all land partly through state farming, but mainly through collective farming under state control) as a prerequisite for attaining communismcommunism,
fundamentally, a system of social organization in which property (especially real property and the means of production) is held in common. Thus, the ejido system of the indigenous people of Mexico and the property-and-work system of the Inca were both communist,
..... Click the link for more information. . Driven in part by the peasant's desire for land, LeninLenin, Vladimir Ilyich
, 1870–1924, Russian revolutionary, the founder of Bolshevism and the major force behind the Revolution of Oct., 1917. Early Life
..... Click the link for more information. , shortly after assuming power, decreed (1917) all land as state property. Landed estates were seized by peasants, resulting in approximately 25 million peasant holdings. His government's promotion of voluntary collectivization was ineffective, however, and after 1929 StalinStalin, Joseph Vissarionovich
, 1879–1953, Soviet Communist leader and head of the USSR from the death of V. I. Lenin (1924) until his own death, b. Gori, Georgia.
..... Click the link for more information. forced collectivization at an estimated cost of ten million lives. After World War II, the Eastern European nations under Communist rule implemented agrarian reforms following the Soviet model. Since the collapse of Communist rule in Eastern Europe (1989–90) and the disintegration of the Soviet Union (1991) there has been movement, sometimes successful, sometimes fitful, toward privatization of agriculture in the former republics of the USSR.
China's Communist revolution in 1949 led, after the wholesale transfer of land to small peasants, to the amalgation of peasant cooperatives into larger communes (1958). An attempt to establish socialist agriculture prior to mechanization, the communes were much criticized by the Soviet Union. They proved inefficient, causing stagnation in agricultural productivity, and China later abolished them. By 1980 China was rapidly returning land to individual smallholders and promoting market-oriented agriculture with marked success.
In Other Parts of the World
In Asia, especially in such densely populated areas as the Indian subcontinent, agitation has been mainly for redistribution among landless laborers; for security of tenure; and for the elimination of middlemen, oppressive rents, and usurious interest. Agrarian reforms began in Japan during the Meiji Restoration (1868–1912), when feudal fiefs and stipends were abolished. After World War II, U.S. occupation forces supervised further land reform. As a result, by 1949 over 80% of Japan's tenanted land had been transferred from absentee landlords to tenant cultivators. In India and Pakistan similar programs of agrarian reform were attempted, with less success (see Bhave, VinobaBhave, Vinoba
, 1895–1982, Indian religious figure, founder of the Bhoodan Movement. While studying Sanskrit in Benares (Varanasi), he joined Mohandas K. Gandhi as a disciple.
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In S Africa, where racial policies resulted in discriminatory land policies in Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, majority rule in the late 20th cent. led to pressure for land redistribution. In Zimbabwe, wholesale land redistribution at the end of the 1900s resulted in near collapse of the country's commercial agriculture when land was transferred from white farmers to blacks who had little farming experience and inadequate equipment. Land reform has proceeded more gradually in Namibia and South Africa, resulting in greater frustration on the part of the landless but less significant decreases in agricultural production.
Latin America and Africa
In South America land reform is a major problem because enormous tracts of land (latifundios) are concentrated in very few hands with laborers no better off than serfs. Although the revolution in Mexico resulted in land reform (1917), the program of redistribution of land is still only partially completed. A land reform law also followed the Bolivian revolution of 1952, but by 1970 only 45% of the peasant families had received titles to land. One of the most complete agrarian reforms in Latin America has taken place in Cuba, where land reform was one of the main platforms of the revolution of 1959. Large holdings were expropriated by the National Institute for Land Reform (INRA), but most is managed by government officials and has not been redistributed. The remaining agricultural land is limited to a ceiling with tenants gaining ownership rights. Nicaragua's agrarian reform under the Sandinistas resulted in expropriation of some large holdings (1979), which after initial collectivization has been progressively redistributed to individual farmers, including returning Contras after 1989. Chile's land reform (1970–73) was reversed when Socialist Salvador Allende was overthrown.
African agrarian reforms have included distribution of excess land (Algeria, 1971); nationalization of all land (Ethiopia, 1974); and abolition of all land titles to be replaced by rights of occupancy (Tanzania, Zambia and Nigeria). Tanzania promoted farming collectives (ujamaa) with limited success.
See D. Ghai and S. Radwan, ed., Agrarian Policies and Rural Poverty in Africa (1983); C. C. Geisler and F. J. Popper, ed., Land Reform, American Style (1984); M. R. Ghonemy, Studies in Agrarian Reform and Rural Poverty (1984); J. D. Montgomery, International Dimensions of Land Reform (1984); J. P. Polwelson, The Story of Land (1987) and The Present Betrayed (1989); J. M. Reidinger, Land Reform and Democratic Development (1987); D. Christodoulou, The Unpromised Land (1989); W. Hinton, The Great Reversal: Privatization of China (1990).