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Land reform (also agrarian reform) is the government-initiated or government-backed redistribution of — i.e. transfer of ownership of (or tenure in) — agricultural land. The term most often refers to transfer from ownership by a relatively small number of wealthy (or noble) owners with extensive land holdings (e.g. plantations, large ranches, or agribusiness plots) to individual or collective ownership by those who work the land. Such transfer of ownership may be with or without consent or compensation; compensation may vary from token amounts to the full value of the land. The land value tax is a moderate version of land reform.
This definition is somewhat complicated by the issue of state-owned collective farms. In various times and places, land reform has encompassed the transfer of land from ownership — even peasant ownership in smallholdings — to government-owned collective farms; it has also, in other times and places, referred to the exact opposite, division of government-owned collective farms into smallholdings.
Agrarian or land reform has been a recurring theme of enormous consequence in world history — see, for example, the history of the Semproninan Law or Lex Sempronia agraria proposed by Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and passed by the Roman Senate 133 B.C.E., which led to the social and political wars that ended the Roman Republic.
In the modern world and in the aftermath of colonialism and the Industrial Revolution, land reform has occurred around the world, from the Mexican revolution (1917) to Communist China to Bolivia (1952) to Zimbabwe and Namibia. Land reform has been especially popular as part of decolonization struggles in Africa and the Arab world, where it was part of the program for African socialism and Arab socialism. Cuba has seen one of the most complete agrarian reforms in Latin America. Land reform was an important step in achieving economic development in many Third World countries since the post-World War II period, especially in the East Asian Tigers and "Tiger Cubs" nations such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Malaysia.
Land ownership and tenure
See main article Land ownership and tenure.
The variety of land reform derives from the variety of land ownership and tenure. Among the possibilities are:
- 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 commons
In addition, there is paid agricultural labor — under which someone works the land in exchange for money, payment in kind, or some combination of the two — and various forms of collective ownership. The latter typically takes the form of 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). There are also various hybrids: in many communist states, government ownership of most agricultural land has combined in various ways with tenure for farming collectives.
The peasants or rural agricultural workers who are usually the intended primary beneficiaries of a land reform may be, prior to the reform, members of failing collectives, owners of inadequate small plots of land, paid laborers, sharecroppers, serfs, even slaves or effectively enslaved by debt bondage.
The philosophy behind land reform
Philosophically there are strong arguments to justify land reform: Multiple legal titles to the same land decrease its usefulness, some of the titles may have been obtained through theft (sometimes aided by control of the legal system), the greatest good for the most people, a right to dignity, or a simple belief that justice requires a policy of "land to the tiller". However, many of these arguments conflict with prevailing notions of property rights in most societies and states. Except to minarchists, state facilitation of "willing seller, willing buyer" transactions is relatively unproblematic, but other forms of land reform generally raise questions about a society's conception of rights and of the proper role of government.
These questions include:
- Is private property of any sort legitimate?
- If so, is land ownership legitimate?
- If so, are historic property rights in this particular state and society legitimate?
- Even if property rights are legitimate, do they protect absolutely against expropriation, or do they merely entitle the property owner to partial or complete compensation?
- How should property rights be weighed against rights to life and liberty?
- Who should adjudicate land ownership disputes?
- At what level of government is common land owned?
- What constitutes fair land reform?
Land reform for poverty alleviation and food security
Access to land is a crucial factor in the eradication of food insecurity and rural poverty. The world's poorest people are usually land-poor; improved access to land provides shelter and food — allowing a household to increase food consumption — and may increase household income if surplus food is produced and sold. 
Land reform efforts
- Mexico: a certain degree of land reform was introduced, albeit unevenly, as part of the Mexican Revolution. Emiliano Zapata was strongly identified with land reform, as are the present-day Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
- Brazil: In the 1930s, Getúlio Vargas reneged on a promised land reform. Strong campaign including direct action by the Landless Workers' Movement throughout the 1990s. Current efforts under Lula da Silva, Brazil's first elected leftwing president, inaugurated January 1, 2003
- Guatemala: land reform occurred during the "Ten Years of Spring", 1944–1954 under the governments of Juan José Arévalo and Jacobo Arbenz.
- Bolivia: The revolution of 1952 was followed by a land reform law, but in 1970 only 45% of peasant families had received title to land.
- Peru: land reform in the 1950s largely eliminated a centuries-old system of debt peonage. Further land reform occurred after the 1968 coup by left-wing colonel Juan Velasco Alvarado, and again as part of a counterterrorism effort against the Shining Path roughly 1988–1995, led by Hernando de Soto and the Institute for Liberty and Democracy during the early years of the government of Alberto Fujimori, before the latter's auto-coup.
- Cuba: Land reform was among the chief planks of the revolutionary platform of 1959. Almost all large holdings were seized by the National Institute for Land Reform (INRA), which dealt with all areas of agricultural policy. A ceiling of 166 acres (67 hectares) was established, and tenants were given full ownership rights, though not all land taken over by INRA has been distributed to peasants.
- Chile: Attempts at land reform began under the government of Jorge Alessandri in 1960, were speeded during the government of Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964-1970), and reached its climax during the 1970-1973 presidency of Salvador Allende. Farms of more than 198 acres (80 hectares) were expropriated. After the 1973 coup the process was halted, and up to a point reversed by the market forces.
- Colombia: Alfonso López Pumarejo (1934-1938) passed the Law 200 of 1936, which allowed for the expropiation of private properties, in order to promote "social interest". Later attempts declined, until the National Front presidencies of Alberto Lleras Camargo (1958-1962) and Carlos Lleras Restrepo (1966-1970), which respectively created the Colombian Institute for Agrarian Reform (INCORA) and further developed land entitlement. In 1968 and 1969 alone, the INCORA issued more than 60,000 land titles to farmers and workers. Despite this, the process was then halted and the situation began to reverse itself, as the subsequent violent actions of druglords, paramilitaries, guerrillas and opportunistic large landonwers severely contributed to a renewed concentration of land and to the displacement of small landowners. In the early 21st century, tentative government plans to use the land legally expropiated from druglords and/or the properties given back by demobilized paramilitary groups have not caused much practical improvement yet.
- Venezuela: Hugo Chávez's government enacted Plan Zamora to redistribute government and unused private land to campesinos in need.
Land reform is discussed in the article on Arab Socialism
- Egypt: (1952, largely reversed since)
- Syria (1963, largely reversed since)
- Iran: a significant land reform was part of Muhammad Reza Shah's so-called White Revolution of 1963. Almost 90% of Iranian share-croppers became land owners.
- Iraq (1970)
- France: a major and lasting land reform took place under the Directory during the latter phases of the French Revolution.
- Estonia and Latvia: at their founding as states in 1918–1919, they expropriate the large estates of Baltic German landowners, much of which became smallholdings.
- Romania: After failed attempts at land reform by Mihail Kogalniceanu in the years immediately after Romanian unification in 1863, a major land reform finally occurred in 1921.
- Scotland the Land Reform Act (Scotland) was passed in 2003, it ends the historic legacy of feudal law and creates a framework for rural or croft communities right to buy land in their area.
- Namibia: A limited land reform has been a hallmark of the regime of Sam Nujoma; legislation passed in September 1994, with a "willing seller, willing buyer" approach.
- South Africa: Land reform was one of the promises made by the African National Congress when it came to power in South Africa in 1994. The system is based on fair price system, land is bought from its owners (willing seller) by the government (willing-buyer) and redistributed.
- Zimbabwe: Very controversial efforts at land reform in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe has moved steadily from a "willing seller, willing buyer" approach toward outright expropriation, often for the benefit of people close to the government.
- Canada: A land reform was carried out as part of Prince Edward Island's union with the Canadian confederation in the 1870s.
- China has been through a series of land reforms:
- The thorough land reform launched by the Communist Party of China in 1946, three years before the foundation of the People's Republic of China (PRC), won the party millions of supporters among the poor and middle peasantry. The land and other property of landlords were expropriated and redistributed so that each household in a rural village would have a comparable holding. This agrarian revolution was made famous in the West by William Hinton's book Fanshen.
- In the mid-1950s, a second land reform compelled individual farmers to join collectives, which, in turn, were grouped into People's Communes with centrally controlled property rights and an egalitarian principle of distribution. This policy was generally a failure in terms of production.  There is evidence that the PRC began to reverse this policy even in the 1960s.
- A third land reform beginning in the late 1970s re-introduced family-based contract system called the household responsibility system , which had enormous initial success, followed by a period of relative stagnation. Chen, Wang, and Davis  suggest that the later stagnation was due, in part, to a system of periodic redistribution that encouraged overexploitation rather than capital investment in future productivity. 
- Japan: After World War II, the U.S. occupying forces conducted a land reform in Japan.
- Taiwan: In the years after World War II, Chiang Kai-shek conducted land reform at the insistence of the U.S. This course of action was made possible, in part, by the fact that many of the large landowners were Japanese who had fled and also by the fact that the Kuomintang were mostly from the mainland and had few ties to the remaining indigenous landowners.
- Vietnam: In the years after World War II, even before the formal division of Vietnam, generally successful and popular land reform boosted the popularity of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, especially when contrasted with failed attempts at land reform in South Vietnam under Ngo Dinh Diem. South Vietnam made several further attempts at land reform in the post-Diem years, the most ambitious being the Land to the Tiller program instituted in 1970 by President Nguyen Van Thieu. This limited individual to 15 hectares, compensated the owners of expropriated tracts, and extended legal title to peasants who in areas under control of the South Vietnamese government to whom had land had previously been distributed by the Viet Cong. Mark Moyar  asserts that while it was effectively implemented only in some parts of the country, "In the Mekong Delta and the provinces around Saigon, the program worked extremely well... It reduced the percentage of total cropland cultivated by tenants from sixty percent to ten percent in three years." 
- South Korea: In 1945–1950, United States and South Korean authorities carried out a land reform that retained the institution of private property. They confiscated and redistributed all land held by the Japanese colonial government, Japanese companies, and individual Japanese colonists. The Korean government carried out a reform whereby Koreans with large landholdings were obliged to divest most of their land. A new class of independent, family proprietors was created. 
- Anti-globalization movement
- Eminent domain
- Homestead principle
- Land Value Tax
- Land rights
- Land Research Action Network:News, Analysis, and Research on Land Reform
- Land Reform in Scotland
- Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe
- Fu Chen, Liming Wang and John Davis, "Land reform in rural China since the mid-1980s", Land Reform 1998/2, a publication of the Sustainable Development Department of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
- William H. Hinton. Fanshen: A documentary of revolution in a Chinese village. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966. ISBN 0-520-21040-9.
- Mark Moyar, "Villager attitudes during the final decade of the Vietnam War". Presented at 1996 Vietnam Symposium "After the Cold War: Reassessing Vietnam".
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