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Back | Programme Area: Civil Society and Social Movements (2000 - 2009)

Technology and Globalization: Modern-Era Constraints on Local Initiatives for Land Reform

This paper is divided into four sections. The first section provides an outline of some of the major land reforms of this century. It includes a brief commentary on European feudalism of earlier centuries as well as the land conflict inherent in the American Civil War over slavery. Feudal land tenure systems and the struggle of peasants for rights to land were key factors in the French Revolution. And although the American Civil War was primarily about the abolition of slavery, it had a major land tenure component. Two major land reforms of the current century that have had various periods of active restructuring followed by periods of relative stability are those of Mexico and Russia. In both cases, there have been very fundamental changes within the past decade.

The second section provides a brief outline and discussion of the various levels of political action (at the international, national and local levels) for the initiation and implementation of land reforms. The role of the United States in the East Asian reforms—Japan, Taiwan Province of China and South Korea—as well as in those of Latin America are prime examples. But other countries were also involved in such reforms. Sweden was deeply involved in the land reforms of Ethiopia, and the French and the British tried to convert a variety of communal land systems to Western freeholds in a number of their African colonies. The Soviet Union and China were active in trying to influence the tenure structures of many of the newly independent nations upon the demise of colonialism. Likewise the specialized agencies of the United Nations and other international organizations, including both the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank, have held conferences, offered technical assistance, and used various forms of leverage and pressure in Asia, Africa and Latin America to encourage land policies considered to be more effective than those in existence at the time.

The third section looks at the globalization of markets and economies and the resulting negative effects that this new order can have, especially on local initiatives directed at promoting and implementing land reforms. This increasing globalization, linked as it is to modern technology, permits the interests and powers of other nations, as well as those of the economically powerful multinational corporations, to penetrate deeply into life and decisions at the local level. Likewise, these developments have made action and initiatives by local communities and interest groups increasingly difficult. All economies, even those of the largest nations that were largely self-sufficient a generation or two ago, are today highly dependent on international trade. And a corollary of this increased trade is that national economies are less amenable to direction by domestic economic policies. This makes life of local officials as well as of national legislators and executives increasingly difficult. People demand action to improve their economic conditions, but the actions necessary are only partially under the control of national officials. And local initiatives can rarely be fruitful without support at a higher level.

The final section attempts to suggest some prospective innovations at the national and international levels to make the economic playing field more level so that local initiatives for the promotion and implementation of land tenure changes can again be more fruitful. There are both private and public institutions operating transnationally which may require enforceable new codes of conduct in their economic policy implementation. We cannot, and would not want to, put the technological genie back into the bottle. We cannot, and would not want to, force a dismantling of all multinational corporations. But there is a desperate need for new and enforceable rules and procedures to be observed by giant multinational corporations as well as by some public international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Without such major changes in order to get a more level playing field, the effectiveness of local actions is not likely to be restored.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Jun 1999
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD