Land redistribution as a poverty alleviation strategy

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.

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 byEdwardlahiffinhttp://r4d.dfid.gov.uk/PDF/ESRC_DFID/60332_Lahiff_Redistributive.pdf

Redistribution – of assets and other forms of wealth p2

he main potential to reduce rural poverty and inequity lies in the development of overall frameworks providing social security, education and training as well as health care, and in developing adequate infrastructures in rural areas.

In a review of poverty and policy in South Africa in the first ten years of democracy, Bhorat and Kanpur (2006: 12-13) identify five main trends, which are largely hostile to the poor, albeit with some ameliorative effects:An increase in both absolute and relative income poverty.

An increase in both absolute and relative income poverty

An increase in income inequality

Increased unemployment rates (as growth in the labour force outstrips growth in employment)

A large fiscal resource shift that has engendered wider access to assets and basic services for poor households

‘Tepid’ economic growth rates, which have failed to keep pace with population growth.

“The first ten years have seen rising unemployment, rising income poverty and rising income inequality, all in the context of a lack lustre performance in economic growth” (Bhorat and Kanpur 2006: 1).

Policies to increase participation in the rural economy and diversify incomes are key to addressing rural poverty. Rural poverty in South Africa appears to differ from other countries in three ways:

  1. among the rural poor, income generated directly from agricultural activities and food consumed from own farm production are minor components of household resources (estimated at 10% to 20% of the total);
  2. many households continuously rotate between rural and urban base;
  3. and rural society is closely linked to the social and health problems of urban
    areas.

 The main potential to reduce rural poverty and inequity lies in the development of overall frameworks providing social security, education and training as well as health care, and in developing adequate infrastructures in rural areas. There is a need to examine how recent and ongoing sectoral and economy-wide policies contribute to poverty reduction by integrating poor population in broader economic activities.
OECD 2006: 25

Redistributionof assets and other forms of wealth – has been a prominent feature of the economic and political debate in South Africa both before and after 1994, captured in the competing slogans of ‘growth through redistribution’ and ‘redistribution through growth’. Redistribution was at the heart of the 1955 Freedom Charter, described by Seekings and Nattrass (2005) as the closest the ANC had to an economic policy prior to 1990, and the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which was effectively the manifesto on which the ANC came to power in 1994 (ANC 1994).

Debates about the relationship between redistribution and growth, and the means by which redistribution should be brought about, have not abated, despite the ANC’s decisive turn in favour of growth (now seen as a precondition for redistribution) from around 1996 (Marais 1998). Nonetheless, important forms of redistribution have occurred. Notable amongst these are significant increase in government spending on infrastructure, welfare and social services aimed at the poorest sections of the population, significant increases in earnings for those in formal employment, and opening up of opportunities for share-holding and business opportunities in the corporate world for previously disadvantaged people through the BEE programme. While this has led to a substantial de- racialisation of the upper and middle socio-economic classes, it has had remarkably little impact on overall income inequality or poverty.

Redistribution of assets – notably land – has a special place within the discourse on redistribution, both in South Africa and internationally. Land redistribution (including the associated processes of restitution and tenure reform) has been an important component of policy since 1994 and features prominently in the 1996 Constitution. Yet, an explicit link between land reform and poverty is difficult to find in official policy pronouncements, especially since the change from the Mandela to the Mbeki presidency in 1999.

The arguments for land reform in South Africa have been dominated since the outset by a discourse of restorative justice which seeks to return land to its previous owners and redress racial imbalance in landholding, with relatively little attention to the economic dimensions of land use, in general, and the links between land reform and poverty alleviation (or economic growth) in particular.

It is important to consider the theoretical arguments for land reform and the ways in which redistribution is linked to poverty alleviation, both in South Africa and internationally.

 

 

Source:Bhorat, H. and Kanbur, R. 2006. ‘Poverty and well-being in post-apartheid South Africa’, in Haroon, and Kanbur, R. (eds), Poverty and Policy in Post Apartheid South Africa. Cape Town,: HSRC Press.2.Seekings, J. and Nattrass, N. 2005. Class, Race, And Inequality In South Africa. Yale University Press.3.Marais, H. 1998. Limits to Change: The Political Economy of Transformation. London and New York: Zed Press.4.http://r4d.dfid.gov.uk/PDF/Outputs/ESRC_DFID/60332_Lahiff_Redistributive.