UBC Theses and Dissertations
Problems of size-tenure structure in Bangladesh agriculture and prospects of a land reform programme in developing the rural economy of the country Alam, Muhammad Mustafa
Existing size-distribution of farms and land tenure arrangements in Bangladesh contribute to the perpetuation of inequality and inefficiency among agricultural households. A historical review of the land tenure system in Bangladesh shows that some characteristics essentially reflect older trends while others are the outcome of more contemporary developments. Feudal interests, in the strict sense of the term, no longer exist; however, rent-receiving interests and tenant cultivation have survived, mainly under sharecropping arrangements. With a rapidly growing population, land shortage has become severe for most households. This has enhanced the economic social and political status of the relatively large land owners who continue to hold significant proportions of total farmland. The patron-client relationship between them and the vast majority of landless and near-landless masses has helped maintain a semi-feudal agrarian structure. In the absence of an urban sector which can effectively employ the 'superfluous' labour from agriculture, income-earning opportunities for a poor rural household are mainly related to its land-owning status. Disparity in land ownership being very high in Bangladesh agriculture, the distribution of income has understandably been seriously skewed. In considering the relationship between size-tenure structure and productive efficiency, traditional theories are applicable only to the micro-static context. Micro-static comparisons of agricultural performance of different size and tenure groups of farms can, at best, help in formulating short run policy prescriptions. For purposes of long-term development, however, policies also need to be evaluated in terms of their potential for meeting future needs of the country. The present study contends that neither of the two major cultivation arrangements which exist in Bangladesh agriculture (namely, small-scale owner cultivation and sharecropping cultivation) can meet adequate macro-dynamic standards in terms of improved equity and increased efficiency. In discussing the context of land reform for Bangladesh, it is noted that an 'effective reform1 for the country has to serve a number of goals, which include (a) attainment of equitable distribution of income, (b) raising the level of productivity, (c) generating greater employment opportunities and (d) increasing the marketable surplus. A model of land reform which aims to establish a group farming system based on joint responsibilities in ownership, organization and management, seems to offer better prospects for removing the basic obstacles of size-disability and tenurial disincentives in Bangladesh agriculture. It is recognized, however, both during the process of initiation and during the management phase of a group farming system, numerous practical problems would be encountered. The present study suggests various measures for dealing with these problems and, in doing so, seeks to draw upon the experiences of other countries. Whether an effective programme of land reform can be formulated and will be implemented essentially depends upon the nature of the political power-base and priority objectives of the ruling elite. In Bangladesh, although policies of government do not appear to have been dictated primarily by landed interests, the power-elite has traditionally been seen to cooperate with these interests. The proportion of agricultural households without any land or other means of supporting themselves has, in the meanwhile, been increasing rapidly. The impoverishment of a great majority of rural households, coupled with their heightening demands for amelioration of their situation, seems likely to create political circumstances whereby the allegiance of this section of peasantry could become essential for any elite seeking to attain or maintain political power in Bangladesh. Therefore, the prospects for carrying out an effective land reform in the country seem better for the future than they have been during the past decades.
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