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Brazil and Bihar – different context but same story

Posted By Vikas On September 18, 2009 @ 3:16 pm In Agriculture,Community development,Farmers,General,Social Problem | 2 Comments

Land distribution in Brazil

Today, 47 percent of Brazil’s land is owned by just 1 percent of the population, making the country’s land distribution the second most unequal in the world and a glaring inequality in a nation known for its stark division between rich and poor. As a result, a class of four and a half million people are left on the verge of starvation, without land of their own.   Brazil has one of the biggest GDPs in the world, larger than the combined economies of all the other countries in South America. But nearly a quarter of Brazil’s 186 million people live below the poverty line, many of them in notorious urban slums, or favelas.

The landowners family has owned the land  running in many thousands hectares for few generations. Native Brazilian or African immigrants population claims that they are absentee landlords whose ancestors took possession in an illegal 19th-century land grab. In recent years there were some people movements like Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST, a national movement with more than 1.5 million members.  The MST acts like Robin Hood, seizing what they consider to be "unproductive" land and redistributing it to the landless poor. They rely on the Brazilian constitution, which states that all land must be productive. Absentee landlords can be compelled to forfeit idle land. Since its beginnings more than 20 years ago, the MST has pushed the government to redistribute more than 20 million acres to nearly 400,000 families. Landowners are understandably furious and want the state to guarantee their rights, and if they don’t then they will do it themselves.

However going beyond these social problem, this article will look from economic perspective. Contrary to Brazil, India has more equal land distribution thanks to some early legislative changes after independence in 1947.  Next section will give short introduction about land distribution in Bihar and India and then a comparative analysis will be presented to find out the real problem and political motives.


Land Distribution in Bihar

Bihar inherited a feudal agrarian system (Zamindari system). Zamindari system was introduced by Muslim rulers (Mughals) where an official (Zamindar) employed by the rulers to collect taxes from farmers. Britsih inhereited it and modified it to suit their purpose. System become more cruel and rigid during British period as lagan/tax was must and no excuse (even natural calamity) was accepted.  The ownership and control of land was highly concentrated in a few landlords and intermediaries whose main intention was to extract maximum rent, either in cash or kind, from tenants. As a result, agricultural productivity suffered and oppression of tenants resulted in a progressive deterioration of their plight. The zamindari system was mostly abolished in India soon after its independence with the help of Sealing Act and Bhoodan (Land Donation) movement . As a result of abolition of Zamindari, most of intermediaries and tenants got proprietary rights of lands i.e. they became the land owners. This has resulted in improving their economic and social conditions relatively but it need to be analysed.                                 

A national survey data from 1999-2000 shows that at all-India level 59 % of the Rural Labour Households were with cultivated land.  This has decreased from previous survey of 1993-94 which shows about 61% rural labour household possess cultivated land. Among the major states, Rajasthan (78%) had the highest percentage of households possessing cultivated land followed by Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh with close to 70% percent households with cultivable land.   The lowest percentage of households with land was that of Tamil Nadu (33%).  In respect of Agricultural Labour Households, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh with more than 60% was at top followed by Orissa (57%).  Here also Punjab & Haryana were at the lowest level with 11% and 20% households, respectively, with cultivated land.

As regards Rural Labour Households, at all-India level, 41% of the households possessed the cultivated land during 1999-2000.  Among the major states, the highest percentage of households with cultivated land was observed in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa with more than 50% households with cultivated land .  The lowest percentage was found in Punjab (8.79%). In respect of Agricultural Labour Households, 43% of the households at national level had the cultivated land. 

Poverty and land distribution and politics

In relation to world poverty, around 70% of the poor in India live in rural areas, mainly in areas weakly integrated into mainstream economic, political and social infrastructures, and over 70% of these rely mainly on agriculture, more than half being primarily agricultural labourers. Poverty has important structural dimensions – of age, gender and caste. It has been reported that the poor are widely denied access to infrastructure, services and benefits directed specifically towards them through government programmes. Poverty in India is more scary in northern-central area of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. These states also have highest rural population and more equal land distribution.

Brazilian society also displays huge inequality between the city and rural areas, between regions, and between social classes. The income difference between rich and poor is among the most substantial in the world. As a result, Brazil has amongst the highest income inequality in the world.

Having different contexts of land distribution and social structure, Brazil and Bihar display the same symptom of poverty. 

Problem of Bihar is that there was too much emphasis on right of land but less on consolidation of land. Recent report of the Bihar Land Reforms Commission (2006-08) has put emphasis on distribution of land and right to tenants but consolidation of land could not get place in the report. However, the consolidation of land is expected to exert more positive influence on agricultural production and productivity. Land reform has been hot topics among social reformists as well as political mass. Before independence the social as well political class have very blurred line and often objective of both group was same. Land reform was driven by social agenda and primary led by socialist class in their initial days. However it was hijacked by political class often in disguise of social reformer. This crucial issue got a ugly twist and become cause of long social tension between two artificial classes created in the society. Often the victims of this tension were innocent people from both artificially created classes of the society ( landowner and landless).

In comparison, Brazil has better consolidation of land as only few owns large chunk of cultivable land, but it has failed to protect the right of labourers which resulted in extreme poverty. These landowners have been exploiting the native and African labourers since time of colonization (or land grab era) and system has failed to change the situation.

Is there universal solution of poverty?

Governments of Brazil and Bihar have same strategy for solving rural poverty, more equal land distribution. In Bihar land distribution has already failed to alleviate the poverty problem and agriculture industry is already ruined. Brazil which has a flourishing agriculture of the world and contributing significantly in its export basket. If it try to emulate socialistic system and decrease the size of land (or a more equal distribution), it may loose this leverage.

So is there a universal solution of rural poverty? I guess obvious answer can be NO. But… beneath all these symptoms and obvious cause there lies some deep rooted problem of social system. Both Brazil and Bihar failed to develop a integrated social system where society takes a collective ownership role. Bihar land distribution deconsolidated its land size and society become island of isolation. Where as in Brazil ownership of land were with few people and working population were denied the fair right or in other term they have been isolated from main land and remain isolated island. Now if we look at these problem from integrated system perspective, they exhibit same system problem and can be solved in same way.

Without going deep in the mathematics of system science, lets put it in a social integration perspective. Bihar and Brazil needs social integration where Bihar will get more consolidated resources and Brazil will get better profit sharing. Finally community will own the natural resources and will collectively use it for the benefits of the community. They will also learn to use it more sustainably as it has been proved that collective consciousness gives more sustainable system.


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2 Comments To "Brazil and Bihar – different context but same story"

#1 Comment By Anita On September 20, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

Me siento afortunada de haber contacatado con una asociación como esta y de poder enriquecerme con la informacion que exponeis.

#2 Comment By Bidisha On February 26, 2012 @ 11:23 am

Very Well written Vikas very well.

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