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Mutual Effects of Land Distribution and Economic Development: Evidence from Asia, Africa, and Latin America

Department of Geography, Ghent University, 9000 Ghent, Belgium
Department of History, Ghent University, 9000 Ghent, Belgium
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Submission received: 4 April 2019 / Revised: 24 May 2019 / Accepted: 6 June 2019 / Published: 15 June 2019


Land plays an important role in the economies of developing countries, and many theories connecting land inequality with different dimensions of economic development already exist. Even though efficacious land distribution allows societies to transition from poverty to a human capital-based developed economy, ongoing issues related to property rights, inequality, and the political economy of land distribution are unavoidable. The general objective of this paper is to explore the nexus between land distribution and economic development. The specific objectives are to: (i) identify which land distribution programs/activities contribute to economic development; (ii) investigate the role of stakeholders in land distribution programs that affect the growth of productivity; and (iii) assess the deficiencies of current land distribution policies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to explore how economic development theories contribute to decreasing income inequality. This paper provides an overview of land distribution history and the main economic development theories. It also highlights the links between land distribution and the main elements of economic development. Finally, it provides a comparative review of the most recent empirical works regarding the characteristics, limitations, and potential (mutual) effects of land distribution and economic development settings on developing countries worldwide.

1. Introduction

Land plays a central role in the economies of developing nations; it is a significant asset for most people, and agricultural products make up a large portion of national incomes [1]. The major challenge when attempting to develop poor countries lies in the rural sector, which suffers from extensive poverty, increased unemployment, growing income inequality, low levels of education and poor health [2,3]. Due to the undeniable role of land, its distribution has been the center of many theories that try to clarify the favorable outcome of developing nations by analyzing rising incomes over time [4]. Most of the problems mentioned above in the developing world emerge from unequal land-ownership distribution, which results in a skewed distribution of social power and income [2]. Therefore, the existence of a mutual effect between unequal land distribution and economic development could have implications on the significance of land inequality in the dissimilar development paths that countries follow [5]. Land reform aims to change the institutional structure of the relations between humans and land by intervening in the dominant ownership, control, and use of land. Therefore, the distribution of land has the same meaning and relates to land reforms involving the amendment of land-ownership laws, regulations, or customs. Redistributive land reform consists of the redistribution of land rights between sectors by, for example, privatizing state land or taking land from large landowners and giving it to people with no land [5].
When reviewing old arguments on redistributive land distribution, Griffin et al. (2002) [6] indicate that a significant characteristic of successful land redistribution programs (i.e., existing land ownership and land use that is being changed and re-allocated) has been the high degree of land confiscation (i.e., full restitution and different types of market-friendly land distribution are unlikely to succeed). In their paper, they analyzed specific provincial highlights, and their conclusions discussed economic changes in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union. They also discussed the macroeconomic context and the two-way causal relationship between the redistribution of productive assets and overall economic performance. They stressed the importance of weakening labor control systems, eliminating the partiality of landlords, and correcting urban partiality.
To our knowledge, several attempts have been made to link economic development to land distribution on a comparative basis [2,3,5]. In this respect, the land poverty index in literature is usually a Gini coefficient that calculates land distribution amongst people (i.e., landowners) [7]. The most broadly applied cross-country measure was developed by Deininger and Squire (1998) [8]; it only considers landed people, and it suggests that between 1960 and 2000, countries that had more equal land distributions were inclined to have higher degrees of economic growth. This type of cross-country regression analysis emphasizes that land ownership security has a significant effect on general economic growth and that primary access to property further influences outcomes [9]. However, the assumption behind applying a Gini coefficient to regression analyses is that there is no variation between countries when it comes to landlessness. This general pattern could be confirmed if more advanced panel methods were applied, and other control variables, including education inequality, were included [9]. This imposes many limitations and may generate false correlations between the Gini coefficient and the selected dependent variable, wrongly showing that inequality in land ownership has remarkable effects on economic elements including finance, institutions, and/or education [10].
There are multiple reasons for studying land distribution programs, as they are successful in improving agricultural infrastructure and decreasing land inequality. The potential benefits of land distribution programs include reduced shareholding distortions, agency costs for hired labor, and better access to credit [11]. In the context of Indian agriculture, Besley and Burgess (2000) [11] and Banerjee et al. (2002) [12] provided empirical evidence on the productivity effects of land distribution. They used government official data at relatively high aggregation levels. Besley-Burgess examined the impact of land distribution legislation in a variety of different Indian states and looked at growth and poverty reduction. According to Deininger (2003) [13], integration with broader rural development policies, transparent processes, capacity building for beneficiaries, safe rights for unconditional beneficiaries, and decentralized implementation approaches are typical features of a successful land distribution program. Therefore, its implementation depends on the efficiency of the program. To achieve the program’s objectives, various factors must be taken into account. Access to land does not ensure that the quality of life is improved. Land distribution programs that specifically target disadvantaged people as beneficiaries and ensure their participation in the agricultural reform process are successful.
Many land distribution initiatives have recently recognized the importance of the community in such programs, albeit in different forms, based on economic factors. In some cases, community-based reforms are distributed according to different social group dynamic indicators by way of ownership titles. For example, in the Philippines, indigenous peoples have gained their ancestral constitutional rights. In Latin America, indigenous groups received collective titles for customary land via various programs promoting customary land titles [14].
In previous studies, no link was found between economic developments and land distribution. The present study aims to focus on links between land inequality and other elements of economic development (resources, training competitive employees, access to other resources, and managing resources) in developing countries.
Cumulatively, land changes are a major driver of global resource management changes. To be specific, the most important form of land distribution is the expansion of farmland in developing countries. This issue, therefore, suggests that designing policies to improve development programs requires an understanding that land changes are part of open systems on a global scale.
This paper presents an overview of land policies and rigorous evidence from a global perspective by reviewing historical and socio-political literature to evaluate the process of land distribution. To address the global significance, this paper reviews, for the first time, links between land distribution and development theories to assess different challenges for land-based development agendas.
The general objective of this paper is to explore the nexus between land distribution and economic development. The specific objectives are to: (i) identify which land distribution programs/activities contribute to economic development; (ii) investigate the role of stakeholders in land distribution programs that affect increases in productivity; and (iii) assess the deficiencies of land distribution policies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America in order to explore how economic development theories contribute to decreasing income inequality. Given the objectives, we asked the following research questions:
How would economic theories benefit land distribution programs?
What are the roles of stakeholders in land distribution programs from an economic point of view?
What is lacking in existing land distribution programs?
The paper proceeds with an overview of land distribution history and the main economic development theories. Then it highlights the link between land distributions and the main elements of economic development. It also provides a comparative review of the most recent empirical works regarding the characteristics, limitations, and potential (mutual) effects of land distribution and economic development settings in developing countries around the world. Finally, the results of this review study are discussed, followed by conclusions and policy recommendations.

1.1. Overview of Historical Descriptions of Land Distribution

The historical procedures that define the distribution of land property rights in every country are related to the legal framework, the power of the state in political influence, the distribution of political power, and the potential of the political system to realize land demands regarding the increase in populations [11]. The purpose of Álvarez and Willebald (2013) [15] was to clarify the impact of setting up a land-ownership system based on income distribution and economic development in settler economies (Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and Uruguay) during the First Globalization. Their approach suggested that the division of political and economic powers (distribution of wealth) should determine institutional changes and the configuration of economic institutions. Based on their findings, two different land and property distribution models were identified in Australasia and River Plate.
Both were linked to colonial-related, long-term patrimonies, the state’s abilities to regulate land distribution, and political power generated by diverse social-structural agents. This study is a good example of “ownership rights” and shows that most states have the right to control freehold land applications, as shown in Table 1.
Tenure is the way that land is owned or occupied, either solely or by groups, or the set of connections that are legitimated or commonly determined between people regarding land. The evolution of the tenure system occurred gradually over the decades, and it continues to change over time [16,17]. Sometimes, revolutions have affected the tenure systems, such as overturning available land-tenure systems via land redistribution or forced land collectivization during various twentieth-century revolutions [15]. Land-tenure systems vary amongst and inside countries. They are the outcome of cultural and historical drivers, consisting not only of the customary land and/or legal rights and associated resources but also the social connections between the different parts of society [15]. The review of historical dimensions of land-tenure settings is necessary when analyzing their potential economic impact over time, so that they can benefit land policy improvements by pointing developing countries towards further growth in a sustainable manner. Table 1 compares different types of land tenures over time with the potential effects of land distribution and its productivity. Customary tenure is the most commonly used tenure system in the developing world; it covers around 70% of Kenya’s land [18,19]. Higgins et al. (2016) [19] systematically reviewed the available evidence to investigate the numerous effects of increased land-tenure security on rural communities. Their research consisted of the collection and synthesis of solid quantitative and qualitative data on this topic, and a theory of change that was guided by the expected effects of the main security activities related to land tenure. The results showed strong evidence of the positive effects of productive and environmental agricultural investment and gender equality on land-tenure security, but a lack of support for links to productivity, credit access, and income. This study is a good example of “land productivity effects” and “tenure security” as shown in Table 1.
As discussed in Table 1, customary land tenure is subjected to a lack of accountability and transparency in the administration of customary land. Compared to freehold and leasehold tenure systems, which have a higher level of security, most lands in the customary system are not registered so there is no tenure security. Furthermore, gender disparity in land administration is a concern in such a tenure system [18]. For example, Kasimbazi (2017) [18] examined how land-tenure systems are linked to earth degradation or sustainable land management in different ecosystems and bio-cultural regions around the world.
According to the studies mentioned above, Table 1 tries to highlight the relationship between land-tenure systems and land productivity effects. The first column shows different types of land-tenure systems (e.g. nationalized, freehold, etc.), the second column provides a brief description per type, and the last column shows the link between each type of land tenure and land productivity effects.
According to existing land-tenure systems, it is important to highlight that many countries have had extremely skewed land distributions resulting from colonial, ethnic, or other historical conditions. This variation has brought requests for land reform and land redistribution to decrease poverty and inequality and promote economic development. There are a large number of empirical cases in which land distribution and its consequences were studied historically [20,21]. Land reform is a policy that always leads to discussions. The purpose of the policymakers suggesting different reforms depends on national, as well as international, political, and economic drivers [22].
In many cases, however, land distribution has not had satisfactory economic impacts. In the 1960s, land distribution in Latin America was considered a tool for boosting technological advances in non-reformed areas, rather than a tool for improving the lives of poor people in rural areas [23]. Similarly, land redistribution in Asia did not have any major effect on poverty reduction [24]. In Africa, as El-Ghonemy (2001) [25] claimed, land distribution was the main reason for prohibiting collective land property rights systems from being efficient in semi-arid areas. This lack of economic efficiency is due to the following three reasons. First, the number of people who could benefit from the land, as well as the amount of distributed land, which was suitable for farming, were rather low. Furthermore, governments usually legalized cosmetic reforms and landowners held an aggressive position towards ownership and were very defensive about dispossession. Second, even if we could assume that farmers with poor resource access did not have problems in the competitive environment of land productivity, governmental investments in supplementary facilities and support services were missing. Third, governments limited the market tremendously with regard to renting and selling land, which resulted in decreased efficiency levels. Without the availability of a credit market, stakeholders may fail to invest sufficiently in the land and must adapt to insecure sales, which results in unproductive land-ownership systems [26].
Now that we recognize the importance of land distribution in the economic growth of developing countries, we will focus our analysis on the main groups of economic development theories and the role of land in these theories. This will provide a better understanding of how the role of land has evolved historically through the development of economic theories.

1.2. Overview of Historical Descriptions of the Role of Land in Economic Theories

Economists’ analyses and writings on early medieval economies focus on agriculture and other primary industries, but this focus shifts with the development of the commercial sector and Mercantilism [27]. In this view, wealth was primarily based on a large population that provided a large pool of labor and the purification of gold and silver. If a nation had no mines or no access to mines, precious metals were obtained through trade. According to the institutional perspective, a significant part of the economic framework was constrained by free enterprise and the collusion framework. Land was not simply an imperative wellspring of riches, for example for sustaining a developing populace, or a wellspring of valuable materials, it was also a categorizing standard for financial connections if needed [27].
Despite its marketing propensity, capitalism never invaded the protections that safeguarded the two crucial aspects of production, land and labor, from becoming objects of trade. Physiocracy was the first well-developed theory of economics. Physiocrats responded to decreasing wealth by following the opinions and safeguarding policies of classical economists. The Physiocrats’ Tableau Économique model depicts the stationary financial process as a roundabout stream. Agriculture was the key variable due to its remarkable ability to produce a net product, which is an exceeding consumable cost. Economic surpluses were expected from land for the Physiocrats, and population growth could not expand wealth. Mercantilists believed that individuals were part of a nation’s resources.
It is an obvious fact in economic theory that an appropriate redistribution of properties in an incomplete market environment can constantly be correlated with more growth. Therefore, redistribution can be useful for growth [28], though premature development models forecasted the opposite [29]. Neo-classical economists, Public Choice theorists, and some Neo-Institutionalists are of the opinion that property rights in every community tend to transform and develop due to scarcity. This theory anticipates that land rights will be personalized, if private property exists, because of increased population pressure and land scarcity. The resulting individual tenure system is beneficial for the landowner as well as society because it gives the property and the decision-making rights to one person, and it can overcome major economic costs such as transaction costs [30]. Considering the role that land distribution plays in the economic growth of developing countries, the following section will provide empirical evidence on the mutual effects of land distribution patterns and economic growth in the developing world.

2. Conceptual Framework

Access to land is very important for vulnerable groups; it improves livelihoods, especially in societies where agricultural products are the main source of jobs. It provides a way of meeting the demands of its livelihoods while also affecting investment incentives and financial market access capacity [31]. Moreover, giving vulnerable groups access to land helps reduce poverty and improve economic growth in a country [14].
Agricultural reform takes various forms and approaches. As emphasized by Manji [31], land reforms is divided into two categories (redistributive and tenurial). Reform of the land redistribution process consists of the redistribution of operational holdings, the transfer of land from large landowners to the landless or smallholders, and a change in land control and usage with increased tenure security.
According to the main objective of the current study, the main focus should be on the effects of land distribution inequality on the productivity and the economic aspects of land distribution policies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. These concerns form the basis of the conceptual framework provided by this study (Figure 1).
The following conceptual framework has been designed to show whether and to what extent economic development theories contribute positively to land distribution programs. This framework has been used to evaluate the overall system of land distribution, especially land reform programs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The discussion tries to identify some issues regarding the desirability of equitable redistribution, policy, and decision-making towards land distribution programs.

2.1. Case Studies

2.1.1. Asia

Redistributive land reform has been an essential part of South Korea and Taiwan’s rapid growth after World War II and has been a critical factor in China and Vietnam’s communist victories. It can be acknowledged that redistributive land reforms in China have played a major role in accomplishing higher poverty reduction compared to India [13]. One generation later, new redistributive reforms in China and Vietnam declared a gradual change in the economy, and a rapid increase in agricultural productivity [32].
Nowadays, there is a rather strong economic push for redistributive reforms, and recent econometric analyses confirm what old country, cross-country, and local studies have long stated. An inverse relationship between farm size and productivity of agricultural land and labor exists in the event of capital shortages and labor surpluses [33]. Though the economic case for reform seems sound, in the Asian development experience, the policy dimension of redistributive reforms was equally essential. It is well-known that Northeast Asia and socialist countries’ redistributive reforms underpin long periods of social and economic stability through credibility granted to countries whose authoritarian governments otherwise could not have gained credibility [34].

2.1.2. Africa

Land reform is one of the major transformative programs of many African governments. It is also one of the top five priority areas that have been transformed over the past 20 years. Land reform reflects changing policy agendas and ideological positions within the African National Congress and the Tripartite Alliance. A Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS) has become the only route through which the state has redistributed land since 2011 [35]. During a mission to South Africa in 1993, the World Bank promoted the market-based or “willing buyer, willing seller” (WBWS) approach, drawing on its interpretation of successes and failures elsewhere, particularly in Kenya in the 1960s and Zimbabwe in the 1980s [36].
Although it does not appear to be in African law, this principle has underpinned the practice of land redistribution in South Africa, in the absence of a new Expropriation Act and despite contrary provisions. WBWS describes how redistributable land is identified and acquired, and how the price of land in the market-oriented land redistribution process in South Africa has been established from the 1990s [37]. The key elements of WBWS include non-intrusion in land markets, the state’s refusal to expropriate land in the context of land reform and (until recent) its entry into the land market as a market actor, and dependence on landowners to make land available for sale [37].

2.1.3. Latin America

In Latin America, land is the major and often the only asset for millions of rural households. Land tenures can influence the difference between livelihood and widespread poverty [38]. Latin America’s land-ownership concentration phenomenon was reinforced in colonial times and after independence when landed oligarchies were replaced by colonial power [39]. Several countries carried out agricultural reforms in the 1960s and early 1980s with different intensities and outcomes due to increased pressure from peasant movements [40]. Latin America’s agrarian reform was primarily the result of major policy changes.
Urban political movements seeking to change previous political regimes (combating dictatorships in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua) have determined a few cases of land reform. The rest of the cases have been determined by searching for economic and social upgrades in other countries (Chile and Peru), due to the social pressure exerted by the peasants in other countries to gain access to land (Mexico and Bolivia).

3. Mutual Effects of Land Distribution and Economic Development: Worldwide Evidence

Land distribution has been the focus of economic development analyses since early classical economists like David Ricardo and Thomas Malthus dedicated their research to economic development studies. However, contrary to the concepts of education and trade, which have long been a leader in the history of economic development in the 1970s [41], land management has not been the forefront of development analysts’ attention [42]. When considering economic and social development, proper land policies are very important for poor countries in several ways. Outdated land regulations, insecure land tenures and institutions with slow or unstable land management can limit private investment, weaken good governance, and reduce local governments’ ability to raise taxes. Strongly biased distributions of land ownership and patterns of access to land based on gender or ethnicity will limit market capacities for land use and reduce economic opportunities for disadvantaged groups. Economists and sociologists believe that it is desirable to improve the distribution of land according to development theories [42]. However, they debate how to create development theories that are sensitive to poor land distribution. Attention to land in economic theories has changed over time. Ricardo’s early and well-known ideas and Von Thünen’s model laid the groundwork for land-price and land-use theories in a spatial context; they are still legitimate and used to some extent in current research. Ricardian land models describe land rents as a consequence of differences in fertility or, more generally, differences in land quality [43]. High-quality land produces some low-quality surpluses over land, which are paid to the landowner as rent due to competitiveness in the field of land and agricultural products.
Having said that, a single economic development path has not been identified for all countries. The economic development process requires policy modifications that reflect long-term, new, emerging factors and trends. These economic development policies must also consider the effects of social, cultural, political, and institutional systems, and their variable interactions over time in a country. In any event, it is beneficial to start with a moderate regime; the upper limit should be on the land that can be removed for economic theory adaptation [43].
While the importance of farm production, shelter, and housing of land tenure and land access have been evident, the importance of safe land rights as an indispensable prerequisite for sustainable economic growth goes above and beyond this recognition. Worldwide evidence of land distribution and economic development was mentioned in Table 2 and is discussed in detail as follows:
Atrocious land allocation adds substantial costs to business: As indicated by Gottlieb and Grobovšek (2019) [1], available land transfers are often seen as a measure to prevent massive (and potentially disruptive) rural-urban migration. Their results showed that the removal of municipal land tenure reduces agricultural jobs by 18% and increases gross domestic product (GDP) by 9%. Based on their results, rising productivity in agriculture would result in falling non-farm productivity.
Merging land institutions and markets: According to a study by Marquardt and Mollers (2012) [3], deprived rural households rely on their social networks because of less dense public service networks or limited market access, while deprived urban households can rely on welfare. This shows that the integration of land institutions and markets can facilitate the creation of social capital and initiatives driven by local land management.
Property demand and public infrastructure: A Study by Sellars and Alix-Garcia (2018) [17] revealed that short-term labor shortages could have long-term institutional implications. Their findings have significant implications for understanding the historical persistence and role of public infrastructure. Most historically dependent empirical works explore one or two historical snapshots that often associate a long-time shock or event to a modern result.
Accountable land use: A study by Sellares and Alix-Garcia (2018) [17] showed that conventional agencies have certain functions of land management. The proximity, accessibility, and accountability of institutions of land management are important issues that also apply to traditional authorities.
Socio-economic aspect of land distribution: A study by Kasimbazi (2017) [18] showed that a successful land distribution program is essential for poverty reduction and the improvement of economic development, equality between women and men, social stability, and the sustainable use of resources. When land is poorly managed, the associated problems often lead to disputes, land degradation, and lost opportunities for socio-economic development.

4. Discussion

Economic development, estimated through a growth in the genuine total national output (GDP) per capita after some time, has generally been credited to the amassment of components of generation (work and capital) and expanded to include complete factor profitability. In contrast, these are impacted by complex factors such as the extent of integration with the global economy, economic growth, private/public financial discipline, the economic framework, the level of government intervention, etc.
Creators, such as Rodrik (2007) [44], discovered that foundations are ground-breaking determinants of development, and residency speaks to a class of monetary organizations. As of late, property rights have been ascribed more noteworthy significance; they are the backbone among foundations of advancing development and the role of the state in establishing and safeguarding such rights since the 1990s.
Various specialists have noticed that expansion of the homestead economy can have positive effects on general economic development. In addition, land-tenure security as an asset is discharged to encourage more highly esteemed, rustic, non-cultivated exercises and urban-based, private area undertaking improvement. Land-tenure security is important, especially in nations where the horticultural sector is an essential hotspot for work and salaries of poor people [45,46].
Land titling is not discussed frequently in older writings. This study found that arrive titling is a crucial issue in connecting land dispersion with the principal components of financial improvement. Inappropriately overseen arrive titling prevents nations from finding financial advancement models because without land titling it is difficult to demonstrate comprehensive economic development. Casual land rights, continuous debate, and land grabbing are recognizable issues for networks everywhere [47].
There are tremendous possibilities for land distribution that could be taken to speed up economically equitable growth by managing land titling. However, allocating land requires careful assessments that make sure that there is enough investment in sectors such as infrastructures.
It isn’t possible to force uniform titling in an economy without considering the subjective redistribution of riches. Furthermore, much shorter titling within the urban area will generally benefit internal city property while, to some degree, longer titling will benefit external urban development. Along these lines, the fundamental need to characterize worldwide limitations on property rights claims is a strain on the proprietors of various sorts of property items. Accessible advancement openings influence the proficient titling of diverse kinds of land, and the predominant titling that was received affects the market estimations of various sorts of land in the economy. The political system also plays a significant role. How the political system evens competing interests in each country for longer or shorter titles defines the prevailing single title of restrictions. This inference has broad consequences [48]. From a positive point of view, a lawful organization is receptive to financial powers, and a political system creates economies in which a moderately more prominent number of people’s interests are focused on urban properties [3]. This viewpoint promotes shorter titling and creates economies in which more people’s interests are focused on farming, forested, or mining properties. Moreover, the investigation uncovers how the productivity of the legitimate framework and the nature of the general population segment efficiently influence the ideal titling of impediments for every property type and, thus, the predominant titling. From a regularization point of view, this outcome suggests that the titling of impediments must apply consistently to all land inside a locale, a government arrangement of numerous purviews (states, divisions, or territories), each in charge of setting their own titling, will be more effective than a solitary national uniform law. This is similar to the federal rule for local public goods, which states that the optimal jurisdictional boundaries to support a uniform title should involve a mixture of land types (i.e., urban versus rural) compatible with profitable management. The sociological rule is reflected, to some extent, in the US National boundaries and indicates that the use of large localities for the labelling of limitation property is not the first best for all landowners [17].

4.1. Economists’ Arguments on Equitable Redistribution Desirability

A broad consensus has emerged in the literature on economic policymakers involved in agricultural reform programs. Although there still isn’t full empirical evidence, both theory and practice have been poorly supported. There will likely be some negative consequences in regulating tenancy contracts. Economists generally agree that regulation of tenancy agreements (e.g. the prohibition of holdings of shares) does not meet their stated aims and should, therefore, be abolished [49].
Moreover, a strong theoretical case for a fair redistribution of wealth for both equity and efficiency objectives emerged in the literature. Economic historians generally agree that on a wide range of crops, the general lack of a systemic relationship between agricultural size and productivity is not likely to result in large-scale, if any, land redistribution efficiency losses. Consequently, a strong consensus has been reached between economists to support policies for greater equity in wealth distribution. Whether redistributive agricultural reform is the best strategy for wealth redistribution seems to collapse [50].
A major reason for this debate is the lack of empirical knowledge on the marginal impact of investing income resources in alternative policy instruments. These policy instruments include land reform, human capital investment, and infrastructure development in terms of poverty reduction [51].
There is scientific evidence that higher education and equitable distribution of land can improve income distribution and increase growth [52,53]. This study shows that land distribution programs that subscribe to unbiased land distribution are methods to induce the transformation from a poor and vulnerable society to an improved, skill-based economy in which agriculture plays an insignificant role [24]. Current study findings advance the empirical evidence that a higher level of education and a fairer distribution of land can strengthen income distribution and boost growth, thereby transforming the nation into a human-based economy rather than a labor-based one.
Poverty alleviation policies must, therefore, focus primarily on rural areas, where agriculture and land are important factors of production [54]. The primary source of poverty is the costly and inefficient use of land in developing countries as well as the absence of land ownership. Therefore, land distribution can be advantageous in the fight against poverty.

4.2. Economic Growth under Land Distribution (Agriculture) Programs in Rural Areas

This paper is linked to several literary strands. The first is the classic literature on a dual economy that focuses on job obstacles, which effectively prevent the equalization of the two marginal product sectors by keeping many farm workers inefficient [54]. The distribution of land allowing for the free transfer of municipal land would lead to a 53% reduction in nominal productivity in non-farming areas.
Gottlieb and Grobovšek (2019) [1] rationalize an economic pattern regarding agricultural employment in rural areas. The distribution of skills in their sorting model implies a decline in the average skills of agricultural workers compared to those of non-agricultural workers. Although part of the selection is inefficient, this mechanism is also present in our framework.
Various specialists [1,41] have suggested that advanced monetary reality and better approaches for working together in agribusiness (and different segments) lead to a breakdown in prospects for small-scale farmers. Small-scale farmers will subsequently be confronted with another range of conditions and difficulties that go past the worldview, which overwhelms the Green Revolution. These obstacles include globalization, innovative advances, institutional changes, and ecological concerns.
Changes in land use strategies due to mechanical advances influence scale economies. Along with new strategies, different variables eventually become the most important factors surrounding the effectiveness of (preferably) small farms. Specifically, work toward increasing new strategies along with the significance of administrative quality appears to support large-scale cultivation. When all is done, we see a range of variables that promote large-scale productivity (knotty data sources, work specialization, preparing and promoting, capital-related exchange costs) and another set of variables that do the inverse (chance contemplations and work-related exchange costs). The overall significance of these elements in specific conditions may prompt diverse results.
Globalization has prompted changes in marketing and exchanging modes and it has influenced household and worldwide promoting chains. Moreover, quality, quantity and timing requirements support a wide range of cultivating tasks that may require these prerequisites and, if necessary, can change them more easily. In particular, when cultivating tasks are conveyed unequally (e.g. bimodal), expansive ranchers are favored [43].
Openings emerge for small-scale agriculturists if the generation of staple goods can be incorporated into quality chains, and harmonized with the creation of highly esteemed items, or if biofuels are demonstrated to be a feasible and productive arrangement. Fundamental conditions and missed opportunities compel small-scale farms to perform aggregate activities that improve conditions towards undistorted motivators and inadequate frameworks [43].

4.3. Policy and Decision-Making towards Land Distribution Programs and Economic Development

Land distribution programs that have clear distributional implications and involve separate interventions or political changes are an attractive candidate for the theories of economic development. These implications contribute to the economic theories’ framework before and after development programs. Moreover, given that land reform is often politically controversial and should generally be sustained beyond the terms of individual governments, economic theory information can be used to build consensus, identify, and monitor clear performance indicators to limit the extent of corruption in the reform [13].
Economists should follow some basic methodological principles to increase the value and impact of economic theories on land politics. The cost and credibility of the analysis carried out cannot be reduced based on the design experience. Economists should rely on input from different stakeholders to identify relevant issues and develop indicators that require broad consensus [54].
A range of different land models could be adopted in different areas. Most land models incorporating economic theory have their roots in the spatial interaction model family. Spatial models of interaction are basically based on Newton’s theory of gravity. Geographers such as Ravenstein, Young, and Reilly described migration, in analogy with this theory, in the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries [54].
As of late, there has been a critical ascent in the foundation of casual land markets. This shows that slighted rustic land has generous esteem. In any case, this esteem is being undermined by an absence of suitable titling openings and land practical frameworks. What is required is an integrated and comprehensive land change program. An integrated distribution of land serves as an effective planning tool both at national and local level. For example, land-use systems, the environment, and other environmental biophysical characteristics could help understand poverty and food safety. Integrated land distribution must also consider all lands as financially important and should try boosting its potential without undermining the social rights and articulation of characters of individuals. Such a program ought to perceive, to the point that unused land can be used to address neediness and invigorate development on the off chance that is joined into provincial esteem chains. Therefore, integrated land distribution programs are useful for informing policy decision-making/formulation and for monitoring and evaluating policy impacts on environmental or societal interests. These programs help sustainable rural communities, improve food safety, reduce rural and urban poverty, promote equal and sustainable development, and ensure social stability, continuity of cultural life, and rural heritage. Generally speaking, the key objective of land policy distribution in Africa is to secure the rights of all land users and to achieve multiple and intertwined objectives, including equity, poverty reduction, income growth, economic efficiency, and sustainable management of the environment [55]. In addition, to make cultivating less demanding and increasingly beneficial, new instruments must be intended to discharge gainful land towards secure and standard practices. Although independent free holding is a deficient and frequently fiercely improper choice to display residency practices, boss and networks ought to be considered responsible on the off chance that they seem unfit to enhance their property.

5. Conclusions

Land has unique qualities in comparison with other monetary products. Each land distribution program has an established feature (i.e., it could be considered to be immovable goods), and it is confined to a specific location. Moreover, land distribution programs have spatial effects when multiple parcels of land are purchased, sold, converted, or exchanged in a specific area. Thus, spatial land-use circulations are associated with various elements that have a comparable overall heading including numerous cooperating factors that have a variety of effects. Considering the first research question, this study revealed that economic theories boost distributional implications and consist of interventions and policy changes (e.g., less expense for farming, less time required for farming, increased production, and increased income level).
Given the second research question, the study showed that to have an impact on land policies, economists should rely on input from different stakeholders to identify appropriate distribution programs and develop indicators for broad consensus. In most land-use models, economic theories on land prices are the theoretical economic paradigm connected to the land market. In general, a full-scale financial methodology is used in land-use models to adjust free market activities. The drivers that are influencing land use, land value, and different factors can be classified into geographic, natural, financial, social, urban, open intrigue, calculated, statistic, and political factors. The impacts of geographic location on land-based incomes and land use need further studies, but some effects are obvious. For example, improvement in the per-acre production of crops and declining exports in recent years have lessened the area of land needed for food production (e.g., African countries). This evidence shows the effects of topography, geomorphology, and financial factors (opportunities, restrictions, resource access) on land-based incomes and land use. To be more clear, economic development is certainly the main agent influencing land use; however, it acts differently in relation to other factors (geographic location, geomorphology, inter-personal connections, etc.). To answer the third research question, this study discloses that the current distribution programs lack access to credit, income, economic efficiency, and empirical knowledge of the marginal impacts of redistributive programs. This study showed that there is a lack of awareness in distribution programs due to people’s hesitation to participate in the programs or feeling insecure and uncertain about them.
In sum, it may not be necessary to create laws uniformly throughout all parts of a country for impartial land distribution. Overall, this study recommends that:
1. Poverty and inequality reduction plans are being implemented in developing countries through decentralized community and voluntary and market-based land distribution approaches, by providing land to landless and land-poor households. However, this should be combined with improved access to reliable markets, increased extension services, and connections with financial and credit institutions to effectively promote an agricultural reform to boost productivity both in agriculture and in the household.
2. The question of how to carry out land redistribution is a central policy issue when designing land reform programs. Therefore, this study recommends that land redistribution rules should be simple, transparent, and uniform, given the historical experience of the landlord’s tactics of prolonged legislative debate about the details.
3. Economists argue that the main aim of the agricultural reform program, in addition to land redistribution, should not be the relocation of land, rather, the creation of economically viable and competitive small farms, which in return requires policy action. Therefore, this study recommends the elimination of distortionary taxes, subsidies, and credit schemes favoring larger farms regarding small farms and measures to ensure that the recipients of reform have access to input and output markets, among the most important of these additional policy measures.
Hence, further studies are required to investigate the characteristics, limitations, and potential (mutual) effects of land distribution and economic development empirically in a given country. In addition, there should be other empirical studies on different parts of the country. Every society has unique characteristics, limitations, and potential effects of land distribution programs and economic development theories. Therefore, in land distribution, studies should be conducted based on the smallest segments. In addition, future studies should focus on theories of development that consider functional distribution, land restitution, and redistribution of lands to confirm the fundamental principles of what a genuinely poor land policy is. These studies should also provide a holistic and robust concept capable of integrating these policies, programs, measures, and efforts into a unique and common alternative.

Author Contributions

H.A. developed the main text and worked on the conceptualization. E.V. read the first draft, enriched and helped the first author with addressing the reviewers’ comments.


This research received no external funding.


The authors are grateful for the reviewers of this article for their constructive comments.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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Figure 1. Conceptual framework of land distribution-economic DEVELOPMENT nexus.
Figure 1. Conceptual framework of land distribution-economic DEVELOPMENT nexus.
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Table 1. The main land-tenure types.
Table 1. The main land-tenure types.
Land TenureDescriptionLand Productivity Effects
NationalizedThe state has complete ownership; people only have the right to use the land. The central government may give some powers to regional governments.Governments, local, and regional powers or parastatals declare the final merit for land distribution and usage.
FreeholdFreehold gives powerful ownership rights, conveying the right to own, manage, control, use, and sell the property. However, most states also have the right to control freehold land applications. Rights can also be invalidated via state dispossession. Freehold may be under condition, for instance when fees or developments have been completed.It has high tenure security, which fosters sustainable investment. According to FAO, land ownership insecurity is a significant barrier to conservation (FAO, 1983). Landowners obtain all their revenues through their investment, which encourages sustainable use.
LeaseholdLand ownership is based on the concept of rentals for different periods. Land belongs to one organ, which can be either the government or a person, and it is leased to another organ through contracts. The leases can be short-term or long-term. In practice, 99-year leases are assumed as a secure tenure similar to freehold land tenure.A higher level of control is determined for leases. It has a high security level.
CustomaryLand ownership belongs to indigenous or local society and is managed based on their customs. The right to land is assigned within the tribe, vested, or community groups. Customary officials such as chiefs usually distribute the land. Land rights differ depending on the location. There might be an overlap in the rights; they are mostly flexible and encompass disagreements in approaches and individuals’ views as well as group rights in using local land resources.It includes social control, restrictions, and bans on land usage, which can be for the long term. Customary land rights provide land access for many poor people, pastoralists, women, and so on.
Adapted from [18].
Table 2. Worldwide evidence of land distribution and economic development.
Table 2. Worldwide evidence of land distribution and economic development.
Investment climateAtrocious land allocation and administration add substantial costs to business.[1,3,4]
Credit market accessMerging land institutions and markets as well as easily transferable land-ownership help to reduce the cost of credit acquisition, which helps companies and financial systems to develop.[1,3,4]
Local government revenuesRising property demand and public infrastructure investment enhance land values. In other words, insufficient land taxation mechanisms restrict local governments’ and local people’s ability to profit from a rise in value. The main outcome was rising fuel speculation or an increased number of bribes.[1,3,4,17]
Accountability and transparencyIf the system for administering land is perceived as corrupt, there will be inefficient confidence in the rule of law, and it will be difficult to maintain the competence of a state.[17]
Social peaceEven access to small land areas can improve the welfare of households and act as a safety net. In general, when land was expropriated in the past (i.e., colonial times), the distribution of land is desirable, both economically and socially.[18]

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Azadi, H.; Vanhaute, E. Mutual Effects of Land Distribution and Economic Development: Evidence from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Land 2019, 8, 96.

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Azadi H, Vanhaute E. Mutual Effects of Land Distribution and Economic Development: Evidence from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Land. 2019; 8(6):96.

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Azadi, Hossein, and Eric Vanhaute. 2019. "Mutual Effects of Land Distribution and Economic Development: Evidence from Asia, Africa, and Latin America" Land 8, no. 6: 96.

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