Land Reform - Land Ownership and Tenure

Land Ownership and Tenure

Land ownership and tenure can be perceived as controversial in part because ideas defining what it means to access or control land, such as through "land ownership" or "land tenure", can vary considerably across regions and even within countries. Land reforms, which change what it means to control land, therefore create tensions and conflicts between those who lose and those who gain from these redefinitions (see next section).

Western conceptions of land have evolved over the past several centuries to place greater emphasis on individual land ownership, formalized through documents such as land titles. Control over land, however, may also be perceived less in terms of individual ownership and more in terms land use, or through what is known as land tenure. Historically, in many parts of Africa for example, land was not owned by an individual, but rather used by an extended family or a village community. Different people in a family or community had different rights to access this land for different purposes and at different times. Such rights were often conveyed through oral history and not formally documented.

These different ideas of land ownership and tenure are sometimes referred to using different terminology. For example, "formal" or "statutory" land systems refer to ideas of land control more closely affiliated with individual land ownership. "Informal" or "customary" land systems refer to ideas of land control more closely affiliated with land tenure.

Terms dictating control over and use of land can therefore take many forms. Some specific examples of present day or historic forms of formal and informal land ownership include:

  • Traditional land tenure, as in the indigenous nations or tribes of North America in the Pre-Columbian era.
  • Feudal land ownership, through fiefdoms
  • Life estate, interest in real property that ends at death.
  • Fee tail, hereditary, non-transferable ownership of real property.
  • Fee simple. Under common law, this is the most complete ownership interest one can have in real property.
  • Leasehold or rental
  • Rights to use a common
  • Sharecropping
  • Easements
  • Agricultural labor — under which someone works the land in exchange for money, payment in kind, or some combination of the two
  • Collective ownership
  • Access to land through a membership in a cooperative, or shares in a corporation, which owns the land (typically by fee simple or its equivalent, but possibly under other arrangements).
  • Government collectives, such as those that might be found in communist states, whereby government ownership of most agricultural land is combined in various ways with tenure for farming collectives.

Read more about this topic:  Land Reform

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