Land Reforms and Land Distribution in Ecuador

In the twentieth century Ecuador had three major land reforms, in 1964, 1973, and 1994. The reforms of 1964 and 1973 were part of a group of similar reforms in other Latin American countries, such as Chile, Peru, and Colombia, aiming to transform precapitalist forms of rural production.20 The two initial reforms helped to dismantle precapitalist forms of production and large landholdings such as the hacienda21 by (1) establishing a ceiling of hectares by farm; (2) promoting colonization of new lands, mainly in the Amazon, and distribution of fallow lands; (3) providing some alternatives for credit and technical assistance to farmers, including the creation of the Ecuadorian Institute of Land Reform for providing assistance.22 In addition, a 1994 land reform was executed in the framework of structural adjustment policies and the Washington Consensus.23 This policy proceeded in an agenda of reinforced market-led strategies such as the freedom to divide and trade communal lands, limitation of state expropriation, and requirement of payment for accessing new land.24, 25

Despite some gains for some sectors of farmers, the reforms did not help to significantly change the country’s indicators of land concentration.26 Inequity is still a structural part of land distribution in Ecuador. Similar to other Latin American countries, Ecuador’s land distribution is very unequal.27 The evolution of Land GINI went from 0.86 in 1954 to 0.85 in 1974.28 There seems to be a small improvement with the 0.80 Land GINI for 2000.29 However, 60.4 percent of the agricultural land is controlled by the 6.4 percent of units that have more than 50 hectares. On the other hand, the 63.5 percent of units with less than 5 hectares only owns 6.3 percent of the agriculturally productive area. In the province of Canar, the 2 percent of units with 50 hectares or more controls 53.5 percent of the land, leaving the 77.8 percent of units with less than 5 hectares with just 19.6 percent of the land.30, 31

The agrarian reform perpetuated a problem of smallholdings in the Andes. In general, the relative area of smallholdings with less than 5 hectares in the rural ranges in Ecuador has changed little over time. However, the absolute number of productive units with less than 5 hectares has increased.32 Moreover, small farming is highly concentrated in the Andean ranges, including the province of Canar. The 87.4 percent of productive units with less than 1 hectare and 72.8 percent of units with between 1 and less than 5 hectares are located in the ranges.33 Despite the small improvement in the Land GINI described above, some forces threaten to worsen the problem of smallholdings. For instance, the 1994 reform freed communal lands, allowing their fragmentation. In addition to land markets, inheritance practices that divide the land in equal parts among all the children has contributed to increase the number of smallholdings.34 Small farmers in Ecuador are mostly smallholders.

The fact that small farmers in the Ecuadorian Andes are mostly smallholders represents a challenge for farmer organizations trying to develop environmentally friendly production. In fact, productive units with less than 5 hectares have poor chances of having economic viability in Ecuador.35 This striking reduced probability, taking into account that they are 63.5 percent of Ecuadorian productive units as already stated, suggests more demanding transaction costs and technical assistance are needed for developing these farms. Moreover, training for proper use of pesticides or development of alternative pest management requires standardization of practices and training, which is more difficult with small and heterogeneous units. For instance, organic farming started worldwide with an important role of small farmers who sought improvement in their situation. However, international standardization and bureaucratic barriers are deterring small producers from it.36 Complex certification processes and the need for accessing research and knowledge have become a burden particularly for small farmers in developing countries.37 In addition, as small producers can afford very little economic risk, they require important levels of support over the initial years for achieving suitable organic production.38 Farmer organizations alone will have little chance to coordinate the efforts deemed necessary for building environmentally friendly and economically viable alternatives for small farmers.

Summarizing, the agricultural field in Ecuador is marked by long-term inequities in land distribution, leaving in a marginal position a majority of small farmers and smallholders in the Ecuadorian ranges. Washington Consensus policies did little to improve small farmers’ disadvantages. Small farms, which are very important for generating employment, face important limitations to survive and adapt their pro?Community Capacity and Challenges 283

ductive system to the challenges imposed. This makes it more difficult to replace the technology brought on by the Green Revolution.

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