Lessons on land reform from the East Asian tigers
AFRICAN countries will do well to learn from the successful land reform of the East Asian tigers, which were specifically aimed at boosting entrepreneurship, industrialisation and broad-based empowerment, as inspiration.
East Asian developmental states implemented their land reforms more honestly, more meritocratic and linked it to their country’s long-term industrialisation. The land reform was also aimed at breaking ancient feudal social, income and power inequalities, between landowners, feudal lords and traditional authorities, and ordinary rural dwellers.
In the 1950s, Taiwan introduced what it called its “Land to the Tiller” land reforms. The land reforms were done under the slogan “use agriculture to cultivate industry”. The reform unleashed Taiwan’s great industrial development, distributing new assets and wealth to millions more equitably.
In Taiwan, big private landowners were compelled to sell parts of their land that exceeded an official acreage limit. Landowners who had to sell were paid by being given shares in Japanese companies expropriated after World War II by the Taiwanese government.
Land that was expropriated from Japanese owners was sold cheaply to peasants who were already working on farms.
The peasants who bought the land had already farmed, and were keen to become owners and had to pay for it, albeit below market price.
The Taiwanese government introduced an industrial policy which was based on the country establishing new industries or building up underdeveloped existing ones in carefully selected sectors. The government encouraged farmers, both established and new smallholders, with business skills to change from agriculture to set up new factories in the industries selected by the industrial policies.
In South Korea before its land reforms after World War II, the land tenure system was based on a small elite of landowners owning the land. They either used tenants to cultivate the land or leased the farms out to them.
The land reform in South Korea between 1945 and 1957 changed the agriculture economy from importing rice to becoming selfsufficient. The land reforms – by giving land to impoverished land tenants – brought social equality between the rich and the poor in South Korea, increased and diversified agricultural production and increased rural income by over 50%.
The transfers were to farm tenants who were already skilled farmers. The government compensated the former owners below market price. The new owners had to buy the land, albeit on cheap terms. The government put a ceiling on how much land anyone could hold.
South Korea introduced two sets of land reform. The American military in control of South Korea following the end of World War II in 1945 introduced the first land reform which involved putting a ceiling on rent charged to farm tenants to one-third of annual yields. In 1948 the military government transferred farm land expropriated from the Japanese government and Japanese private owners to tenants. A ceiling was put on the land per farm tenant.
The distributed land was sold to the farm tenants on generous terms.
In 1950 the new South Korean government introduced a new Land Reform Act, which introduced a new round of redistribution. The new land to be redistributed was purchased by the government and also governmentvested lands – which included land owned by absentee landlords, remaining lands confiscated from the Japanese, farmlands not being cultivated, farmlands exceeding a ceiling of 3 chungbo (2.5 acres) per household, and ownerless farms.
The 1950 land reform had the dual intention of turning former owners into entrepreneurs who would create businesses in the manufacturing sectors the government had identified for development. The government also guaranteed low-interest loans for them getting into business.
The land was redistributed to recipients under strict conditions. Would-be beneficiaries were assessed based on a scorecard.
The outstanding criteria were that they would actively farm the land. Land was transferred under the redistribution reforms to those farm tenants who were actively farming at the time of the reforms, especially those who were farming small patches of land. Recipients of redistributed land could only sell or donate it when they had paid it off. The government could take the land back from recipients who fell in arrears with their payments.
After World War II, from 1946 to 1950, Japan implemented the
Land reform must be done honestly, and not corruptly, in order to secure credibility
LAND PLAN: Taiwan plans to restore about six percent of the island’s farmland, unused for more than a decade, to bolster food supplies, officials said.