Maldistribution of land associated with large traditional estates

Other Names:
Feudalistic land tenure
The term 'large traditional estates' is often used to describe the tenure systems (prevailing in many Latin American countries) which are dominated by large estates having many, though not all, of the characteristics of feudalistic tenures. Under the impact of industrialization, some large estates have undergone changes towards commercialized agriculture; many feudalistic characteristics, however, continue to prevail. Unlike the case of peasant proprietorship or other individualized tenure structures, the tenure, production and supporting services structures are all fused into one highly centralized hierarchical system practically controlled by the owners of the large traditional estates. It is this particular characteristic that distinguishes it from customary tenure on the one hand and the private land ownership tenure (peasant proprietorship) on the other. Land is concentrated into the hands of a few owners of latifundia, a sizeable proportion of which are of a traditional type. Most of the farm population in the rural areas who work on these latifundia are tied to the numerous minifundia or sub-family scale farms which are often too small to provide enough full-time employment for the family labourers.

Minifundistas and landless labourers are completely dependent on the owners of large traditional estates not only for employment but also for credit, marketing, roads and other services normally included in the category of physical or institutional infrastructure. In many customary tenure areas with their subsistence agriculture, as for instance in many countries of Africa, the supporting services structure is either relatively underdeveloped or practically absent. In the individualized tenure areas, as, for example, in countries of Asia, the Near East and North Africa, the separation between the tenure and production structure on the one hand and the supporting services on the other is virtually complete, resulting in distinction between non-cultivating land owner, landless tenant and money-lender-cum-trader, each representing the three different structures. Though in many Latin American countries which have not undertaken land reforms there is growing evidence of incipient separation between the three structures, the supporting services structure is often dominated by owners of large traditional estates ; the credit agencies, which are distinct, are invariably dominated by the estate owners.

In many underdeveloped regions there are large or even extensive rural estates which are only slightly cultivated or lie completely idle for the sake of profit, while the majority of the people either are without land or have only very small fields, and, on the other hand, it is evidently urgent to increase the productivity of the fields. Not infrequently those who are hired to work for the landowners or who till a portion of the land as tenants receive a wage or income unworthy of a human being, lack decent housing and are exploited by middlemen. Deprived of all security, they live under such personal servitude that almost every opportunity of acting on their own initiative and responsibility is denied to them and all advancement in human culture and all sharing in social and political life is forbidden to them. According to the different cases, therefore, reforms are necessary: that income may grow, working conditions should be improved, security in employment increased, and an incentive to working on one's own initiative given. Indeed, insufficiently cultivated estates should be distributed to those who can make these lands fruitful; in this case, the necessary things and means, especially educational aids and the right facilities for cooperative organization, must be supplied. Whenever, nevertheless, the common good requires expropriation, compensation must be reckoned in equity after all the circumstances have been weighed. (Second Vatican Council. Gaudium et Spes, 1965).
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
18.05.1999 – 00:00 CEST