Innovative approaches to rural development: Moving from state-controlled towards market-based land reform

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Among the world's poor, approximately 75% of those in extreme poverty live and work in rural areas and two-thirds of them depend mainly on farming or farm labour for their livelihood. Policies to grant the rural poor secure access to land and water for irrigation — and to improve the economic efficiency of small-scale agriculture — can thus play a critical role in the implementation of rural development strategies, including efforts to combat rural poverty. Since inadequate access to arable land is probably the most important cause of rural poverty, redistributive land reform is increasingly seen as crucial for socio-economic development and poverty alleviation in many developing countries with substantial amounts of (unused) arable state land or (under-utilized) large private landholdings. This article argues that market-based land redistribution schemes, such as the one being implemented in South Africa, can be considered one of the most innovative approaches to land reform that have emerged over the last decade. These schemes thus provide a useful alternative to more conventional, state-controlled land redistribution programmes. The article concludes, however, that when countries opt for market-based approaches to land redistribution, the State still has an important role to play, without necessarily deciding which land parcels change hands.

Keywords: Land reform; Poverty alleviation; Rural development; Small-scale agriculture; South Africa

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, New York

Publication date: February 1, 2004

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