[Developing countries] During the last decade, high concentration of land holdings continued in many developing countries, especially in Latin America, and was associated with a high degree of rural poverty despite a high level of per capita income. Some African countries, (Kenya and Malawi) which opted for freehold titles in land, experienced emergence of absentee ownership and landlessness. In the Near East, in Latin America, and in some countries of Southeast Asia, land settlements continue to be more prominent than redistribution of privately owned land. However, the land settlement programmes have been able to benefit only a small portion of tenants and landless workers. Also, the pattern of growth within agriculture in Latin America adversely affected the landless and marginal farmers.
Tenure reforms and parcelization of the erstwhile big landed estates of Asia and the Near East have resulted in wider diffusion of ownership; this has not only encouraged greater self-realization but also conferred the status of citizenship on those who were previously tenants, landless labourers or small farmers. Unfortunately, the individualization of tenure and the gradual transformation of land into a marketable commodity have been accompanied by a divorce between ownership of land and use of land (as witnessed in the case of tenancy), and divorce between management of land and labour on land. Many of these countries have therefore witnessed the phenomenon of a rising class of landless labourers and small farmers who are either forced to work for wages on the relatively big farms owned by rural, resident, non-cultivating landowners, or, in the absence of adequate opportunities for earning their livelihood, such resource-poor households must necessarily remain poor and are forced to overuse the environmental resource base in order to survive.
Rough estimates for 1981 indicate that out of the agricultural population of 1.3 billion in the developing countries (excluding China), 745 million were small farmers, another 167 million were landless labourers. Between 1970 and 1981 there was an estimated addition of 124 million to these two categories, under the assumption of unchanged proportions of small holders and landless to total agricultural population. The bulk of these additions were in the Far East (75 million). This has been due to the increasing scarcity of agricultural land, as a consequence of higher growth rates of agricultural population than that of area under arable and permanent crops. Between 1970 and 1980, land per person in agriculture declined by 12% in Africa, 11% in the Near East and 9% in the Far East; it increased in Latin America. It is in the context of increasing land scarcity and landlessness that effective implementation of agrarian reform measures, coupled with measures to increase land productivity of small holders and commitment of resources for meeting the employment needs of the landless and mini-farmers, assumes even more importance in the 1980s than in the 1970s.
With existing patterns of land distribution, the number of smallholders and landless households in developing countries is expected to increase by some 50 million to 220 million by the year 2000. These groups represent about 75% of the agricultural households in developing countries.
The main cause for the virtual doubling in the rate of tropical rain forest destruction in the 1980s was the huge increase in landless farmers. Often they were forced into virgin forest lands by major development projects, such as the dams funded by the World Bank.