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Meaning of Agrarian Reform

What is Agrarian Reform?

Basically, agrarian reform is land reform the transfer of control and ownership of agricultural land to the actual tillers—plus a package of support services: economic and physical infrastructure support services (ECOPISS), (e.g., credit, extension, irrigation, roads and bridges, marketing facilities), and human resource and institutional development or social infra structure building and strengthening (SIBS).

What is being “Reformed” in Agrarian Reform?

Agrarian reform seeks to correct numerous defects in the country’s agrarian structure. Foremost among these is the concentration of land ownership in only a few people, such that the huge majority of the population does not have access to land.

According to the 1980 Census of Agriculture, farms less than three hectares in size predominate in the Philippines, representing nearly 70% of the 3.4 million total number of farms. However, they cover only 30% of the country’s 9.7 million hectares total farm area. In contrast, farms with areas of more than 10 hectares are very few, constituting only 3.5% of the number of farms. Yet they cover 26% of the farm area.

So what’s wrong with that?

The concentration of the ownership of lands in the hands of a very few means that the majority is deprived of the opportunity to use land as a basic production resource. The failure to access land results in unemployment, low incomes, low productivity, poor purchasing power, and sluggish rural economies.

A more equitable distribution of land ownership, on the other hand, promotes a more equitable distribution of income which, in turn, promotes greater economic activity. More producers and income earners, require more services and goods which other sectors of the economy produce. The increase in domestic demand and production results in broad-based, sustainable economic growth. And that’s only the economic side of it.

With improved standards of living, greater people participation in the community’s affairs is expected. This will lead to a more dynamic and genuine democracy.

Agrarian Reform Issues: Land Tenure Improvement vs. Support Services Delivery

Land redistribution is so costly, why don’t we just use the money for credit, extension, infrastructure, post harvest facilities, etc., for greater productivity?

Such a strategy would benefit those who own or control the land. It is not surprising, therefore, that more often than not, it is a strategy propounded by those who already own land.

For the benefits of agricultural investments to seep down and reach the lower economic strata, inequitable land ownership structure will have to be dismantled first. Broadening the land ownership base makes agricultural development more quickly and easily felt by the majority.

Agrarian Reform Issues: Big Farms vs. Small Farms

Aren’t small farms less efficient and less productive? Instead of breaking up the lands, shouldn’t we consolidate them into plantations to achieve economies of scale?

The argument that large farms are more efficient than small farms is usually invoked by those who own export and cash crop plantations as an excuse to exclude their landholdings from agrarian reform. The issue can be answered by examining whether economies of scale do exist. A study made on coconut and other tree crops did not show any increasing yield per hectare as farm size increases. In the case of sugar. another study has shown that average production cost per hectare, in fact, tends to be higher for larger farms (Adriano, Quisumbing, and Hayami 1990). Furthermore, if breaking up the lands would not be economically viable, then this need not be done. Agrarian reform can be undertaken by breaking up the land ownership pattern but farming can be done collectively.

Agrarian Reform Issues: Public vs. Private Lands

Why don’t we just distribute public and government-owned lands? Why are we covering the private farms which are productive?

Productive private lands are covered under agrarian reform for various reasons. These include:
  • Public and government-owned lands already have occupants and claimants. The sheer extent of landlessness makes coverage of private lands inevitable;
  • One of the pillars of agrarian reform is the principle that the tiller of the land has the primacy of the right to own it;
  • It is in productive private lands, particularly where the necessary investments have been made, where the beneficiary has greatest chances of success.

Handbook for CARP Implementors. 2nd ed. Bureau of Agrarian Reform Information and Education, Department of Agrarian Reform, Quezon City, Philippines, 1995.

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