land reform

Date of publication
January 2013
Geographical focus

China’s land policy has been in the news frequently over the last few weeks, since the Chinese government announced it will reform its land policy in the wake of the Third Plenum last November.

For those who do not know the Chinese land system follows a brief introduction:

Essentially, China distinguishes between two different types of ownership regimes: the urban and the rural ownership regime. All urban land is owned by the state, while rural land is “collectively owned”. Article 10 of the Chinese constitution states this as follows: “All urban land is owned by the state. Land in rural and suburban areas is own by collectives except for those portions which belong to the state in accordance with the law; house sites and private plots of cropland and hilly land are also owned by collectives”.

For the farmers in China, who make up almost half of the nation, living on rural land, this means that they are part of a collective community and have property rights to their land, but with important restrictions. Their property rights are based on a “household responsibility system”, in which the farmers are granted the right to farm on individual parcels of land based on a contractual agreement with the collectives. In exchange for certain obligations, such as the payment of taxes or production quotes, the farmers have the right to any residual income earned from farming the land, as well as the right to make all decisions regarding agricultural production on the land. 

While this hybrid rural land tenure system has contributed to agricultural development, it is interwoven with rising farmland loss and social conflicts.  Two important restrictions to the rights of farming make the Chinese land tenure system vitally different from those in Western countries. The first restriction is that to the right of mortgage; the law does not permit holders or rural ‘land use rights’ to mortgage the underlying property.

 A second restriction is a restriction of use applicable to the underlying land. An underlying principle of collectively-owned land is that the default use of this land is for agricultural purposes. Agricultural land may not be converted to other uses without the approval of the relevant county government, which is bound by the national law on this subject. This restriction has led to many disputes between local governments and farmers, as is illustrated in this video (made in the wake of the Third Plenum) by BCC:


Yongjun Zhao’s book examines the linkages between land tenure, development and governance, in the context of China’s development transformation. Drawing on empirical studies, it advocates the exploration of innovative land tenure systems that address the wider determinants: institutions, power, politics and social development. It argues that a land tenure system can only be sustainable when it is compatible with the overall biophysical, social, political and economic conditions. This new institutional lens into the condition and dynamics of land tenure systems marks a paradigm shift away from those focusing on the narrow meaning of land rights and tenure security strengthening, as these approaches can paradoxically contribute to weaker land and resource governance.

 Contributing to an enhanced understanding of the challenges China faces in agricultural development and natural resource governance and to the international debates on land tenure reform, this book will be of interested to researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and students in development studies, anthropology, sociology, political sciences, law, geography, economics, public administration and other relevant disciplines. The lessons learnt from China also shed light on its global engagement on sustainable development and governance issues.

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For anyone who is interested in discussing this book or the subject of China's land policies, please feel free to get in touch with Yongjun Zhao

- Source of background information: article by Robin Dean and Tobias Damm-Luhr

Date of publication
January 2009
Geographical focus


 



The dramatic changes that occurred in Kyrgyzstan’s agriculture during the transition from plan to market are perhaps best illustrated by the shifting role of agricultural enterprises and individual farms. In 1988, toward the end of the Soviet era, just 500 agricultural enterprises (collective and state farms) controlled 98% of arable land. The quasi-private sector consisting of hundreds of thousands of small household plots controlled the remaining 2% of arable land. Twenty years later, in 2008, the share of agricultural enterprises (about 1,200 privatized successors of collective and state farms) in arable land had gone down to 25%, while the share of the individual sector (the traditional household plots and some 300,000 peasant farms that have emerged since 1992) had increased to 75%.

Geographical focus

This short paper summarizes the discussion on the land reform in Madagascar and the question whether this approach would be replicable in other circumstances. Lessons from the reform process, but also an outlook in sustainability issues have been addressed.

Also attached to the document, find a brief synthesis report of the online discussion is a synthesis report of the online discussion (LINK) carried out in preparation of the session. The debate will be open until mid November, as the participants decided to use this forum further to address open questions.

Date of publication
January 2011
Geographical focus

The evaluation report of FIDA and FAO summarizes the lessons learned from the land reform in Madagascar. Overall it comes to the conclusion, that the reform meets a genuine demand for a simplified, decentralized, accessible system to obtain security of land tenure, at least in a large number of communes and regions. But it also identifies difficulites and challenges to be met and formulates further recommendations.

Date of publication
January 2010
Geographical focus

This book forms part of a learning programme on ‘Land Reform From Below: Decentralised Land Reform in Southern Africa’. Supported by the Austrian Development Agency, the programme was launched in 2007, and has since provided policymakers, development practitioners and those involved in local governance with a variety of regional platforms on which to share their experiences of decentralised land-reform processes and to derive lessons related to best practice that can inform and improve policy-making.


This Review of Land Reform in Southern Africa 2010 reflects on countries’ experiences up to the first part of 2010, and highlights lessons for land policy and practice. The information in this volume has been gathered by practitioners, researchers and policy-makers working on land issues in their respective countries under the support of the Institute for Poverty Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS).


Published by PLAAS

Date of publication
January 2010
Geographical focus

This book forms part of a learning programme on ‘Land Reform From Below: Decentralised Land Reform in Southern Africa’. Supported by the Austrian Development Agency, the programme was launched in 2007, and has since provided policymakers, development practitioners and those involved in local governance with a variety of regional platforms on which to share their experiences of decentralised land-reform processes and to derive lessons related to best practice that can inform and improve policy-making.

This Review of Land Reform in Southern Africa 2010 reflects on countries’ experiences up to the first part of 2010, and highlights lessons for land policy and practice. The information in this volume has been gathered by practitioners, researchers and policy-makers working on land issues in their respective countries under the support of the Institute for Poverty Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS).

Published by PLAAS

Date of publication
January 2010
Geographical focus


Land appropriation in developing countries has boosted interest in land policy. Issue 4 of Perspective sheds light on the issue, by analysing the novel policy of decentralized land management adopted in Madagascar.



In developing countries, land is under increasing pressure, due to the development of the market economy, galloping urbanisation, and land seizure strategies on the part of the main economic players. In the face of such pressure, the policies adopted in developing countries are often ill-equipped to secure land tenure rights.


 Between maintaining old instruments that have now shown their limitations and the hit-and-miss promotion of community-based regulation, some countries are testing a halfway approach combining recognition of social land management practices and the formalisation of rights by the authorities. This is the case of Madagascar, which in 2005 launched a reform of its land tenure policy based on decentralisation.


Published by CIRAD

Date of publication
January 2006
Geographical focus

Depuis mars 2004, le Ministère de l’Agriculture de l'Élevage et de la Pêche malgache en charge de la Direction des Domaines et des Services Fonciers, a initié un vaste programme appelé Programme National Foncier (PNF). Le Programme National Foncier malgache présente des innovations pouvant susciter l’intérêt des décideurs (et des bailleurs de fonds). Cependant, les divers axes de la réforme n’ont pas évolué à la même vitesse. Les discussions sur les premiers bilans à 1 ans mis en évidence les préoccupations des divers acteurs.

Date of publication
January 2002
Geographical focus

This paper was presented at the Regional Workshops on Land Policy Issues (2002) and complements three other regional studies to feed a research report on access to land and governance with respect to land supported by the World Bank and a number of donors  to review the characteristics, accessibility, costs and sustainability of different land titling and registration options in a range of countries. Specifically, this paper sets out key experience in Asia. 

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