Scholarly article on topic 'Classification of farmland ownership fragmentation as a cause of land degradation: A review on typology, consequences, and remedies'

Classification of farmland ownership fragmentation as a cause of land degradation: A review on typology, consequences, and remedies Academic research paper on "Law"

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Land Use Policy
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{"Land tenure" / "Sustainable land use" / "Land degradation typology" / "Land market" / "Land consolidation"}

Abstract of research paper on Law, author of scientific article — Petr Sklenicka

Abstract Farmland ownership fragmentation is one of the important drivers of land-use changes. It is a process that in its extreme form can essentially limit land management sustainability. Based on a typology of land degradation and its causes, this process is here classified for the first time as an underlying cause which through tenure insecurity causes land degradation in five types (water erosion, wind erosion, soil compaction, reduction of organic matter, and nutrient depletion). A review of relevant literature enables the further presentation of a list of 21 types of land degradation and another extensive list of the 37 most common causes of land degradation. This work further presents an overview of harmful consequences of high farmland ownership fragmentation, and possibilities for remedying the effects. These possibilities consist of eliminating or mitigating those causes accelerating the fragmentation process, defragmenting current land ownership, and remedying the effects brought by this process.

Academic research paper on topic "Classification of farmland ownership fragmentation as a cause of land degradation: A review on typology, consequences, and remedies"

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Land Use Policy

Classification of farmland ownership fragmentation as degradation: A review on typology, consequences, and

Petr Sklenicka *

Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Prague 165 21, Czech Republic


Farmland ownership fragmentation is one of the important drivers of land-use changes. It is a process that in its extreme form can essentially limit land management sustainability. Based on a typology of land degradation and its causes, this process is here classified for the first time as an underlying cause which through tenure insecurity causes land degradation in five types (water erosion, wind erosion, soil compaction, reduction of organic matter, and nutrient depletion). A review of relevant literature enables the further presentation of a list of 21 types of land degradation and another extensive list of the 37 most common causes of land degradation. This work further presents an overview of harmful consequences of high farmland ownership fragmentation, and possibilities for remedying the effects. These possibilities consist of eliminating or mitigating those causes accelerating the fragmentation process, defragmenting current land ownership, and remedying the effects brought by this process.

© 2016 The Author. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND

license (

a cause °fland CrossMark remedies ^

Article history:

Received 22 January 2016

Received in revised form 19 June 2016

Accepted 24 June 2016

Available online 6 July 2016

Keywords: Land tenure Sustainable land use Land degradation typology Land market Land consolidation

1. Introduction

There is no definitive list of land degradation (LD) types or causes, and it is very possible that there never will be. To date, the list of types is dominated by processes reflecting the degradation of all physical, chemical, and biological properties of ecosystem subcomponents. Similarly incomplete is the list of the causes of LD, which is, in contrast, dominated by, in addition to natural causes, items of a socioeconomic character that have the end result of reducing the primary production services of ecosystems. In this regard, this work offers the most detailed overview to date of LD types and causes.

This study focuses on a process with the end result of LD that has not yet been described in sufficient detail, namely farmland ownership fragmentation. A review of the literature enables a description of the negative effects of this phenomenon on agricultural land use as well as arguments supporting the conclusion that high farmland ownership fragmentation is a cause of LD. The work goes on to describe methods for mitigating the causes and negative consequences of this process.

The paper is organized as follows: Section 2 introduces various definitions of LD and discusses their consequences for the classi-

* Corresponding author. Permanent address: Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, Faculty of Environmental Sciences Kamycka 129, Prague, 165 21, Czech Republic.

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fication of LD types (Section 2.1) and causes (Section 2.2). Section 3 outlines the farmland ownership fragmentation issue, classifying this phenomenon as an underlying cause of LD (Section 3.1) and describing its possible remedies (Section 3.2). The conclusions of this review are presented in Section 4.

2. Land degradation

Lists of various LD types differ depending on the author, the further use for the typology, and primarily the definition of this term. It can generally be said that there is presently no universal agreement on a single definition. The term itself was coined quite recently, and as of 1994 did not even exist as an independent category in the U.S. Library of Congress Classification (Johnson and Lewis, 2007). Differences in currently used definitions consist primarily in two main issues. The first is broad interpretations of the term "land" from the all-encompassing (umbrella) term embracing degradation of all elements of the environment, including their interactions (Stocking and Murnaghan, 2001), through the single-purpose or absolute limitation of the topic within "soil degradation" (Oldeman, 1994), to the entirely inappropriate simplification of the problem in the interest of popularization, such as when Lomborg (2001) used the term LD exclusively for soil erosion. The second essential difference arises from whether the definition covers natural processes as causes of LD. In this area, authors are divided into two groups, with one considering LD as a phenomenon or process that arises only as a result of human activities (e.g., Norbu et al., 2003; Johnson and

0264-8377/© 2016 The Author. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article underthe CC BY-NC-ND license (

Lewis, 2007), while the other, larger group expands the definition to include among causes such natural processes as rainfall, wind, temperature, and earthquakes under conditions without human influence (e.g., Blaikie and Brookfield, 1987; Sarukhan et al., 2005; Nachtergaele et al., 2011; Nkonya et al., 2011). In addition to these two main areas within which the definition of LD diverges, there are a number of other differences affecting the form of the definition and therefore the typology of LD. These include such differences as whether the effects of degradation are understood exclusively in relation to humans or at a general level, and also whether degradation is expressed only as reductions in primary production or in a much broader sense to include such measures as biodiversity indicators. Moreover, Blaikie and Brookfield (1987) had emphasized the socioeconomic dimension in stating that LD decreases the yields of labor and capital inputs into production. However, these authors did not offer any corresponding socioeconomic LD type.

This review will employ a concise but substantively broad definition thoughtfully compiled from several sources (Blaikie and Brookfield, 1987; Sarukhan et al., 2005; Nkonya etal., 2011): "land degradation is the reduction or loss of natural beneficial goods and services, notably primary production services, derived from terrestrial ecosystems". This results in a definition embracing both human and natural causes and emphasizing primary production services but considering them within the context of all components of the land (soil, water, vegetation, and other components of the ecosystem). The consequences of the process are not limited exclusively to human needs, although these are emphasized. Degradation thus includes more types and affects soils, biomass, water, and socioeconomic services derived from ecosystems. I personally added to the definition the word "natural," which thus incorporates within LD cases wherein all beneficial goods and services may remain at the previous level but at the cost of a higher input of additional energy (fertilizer, irrigation, human work, etc.). Even such cases in which the natural potential of ecosystems is decreased should properly be considered as LD.

2.1. Types of land degradation

This broad definition is suitable for the subsequent consideration of LD typology. However, it leads to several complications for further use. Above all, there is no consensus on how to assess ecosystem goods and services. All authors who discuss LD in general and who offer their own definitions or apply a certain point of view to specific cases fail to present a comprehensive accounting of LD types. Similarly as with most other typologies, accounting for individual LD types is influenced primarily by the way in which the problem is defined and the purpose of its further use, which affects in particular the need for detail. The required level at which to assess these processes is derived from the purpose of the typology (global, regional, or local; Wiebe, 2003), which helps substantially in deciding the suitability and measurability of individual types. Another important factor determining the form of LD types relates to the local characteristics of the study area, particularly in endeavoring to reflect the causes and processes which are dominant or decisive in the given region or, in contrast, to suppress or exclude from the assessment those types which are less important or are not present.

In terms of the distribution of individual LD types, water and wind erosion together with loss of biodiversity most frequently occur in less populated areas, while in agricultural areas the dominated types are water shortages, soil depletion, and soil pollution (Nachtergaele et al., 2011). Bai et al. (2008) stated that almost one-fifth of degraded land comprised cropland, while 23% was deciduous forest, 19% coniferous forest, and 20-25% rangeland.

Currently used typologies emphasize physical, chemical, orbio-logical processes caused by both natural factors and human use

of the land and/or ecosystem. Socioeconomic characteristics are not presented as types of LD but exclusively as factors influencing LD. Table 1 presents an overview of the LD types used in relevant typological and case studies. Individual types are divided into LD subcomponents, with the commonly used term soil degradation also split into soil physics and soil chemistry. The list of types is not definitive. The list can be expected to expand in the area of biodiversity, just as the tendency has recently been strengthening for the definition of LD to be expanded further from its previous narrow meaning of soil degradation to include other land components.

Compiling a general typology is no easy task in as much as LD must be judged in its spatial, temporal, economic, and cultural context (Warren, 2002). It generally holds that changes at the local level affect global processes just as they are affected by these processes (Wilbanks and Kates, 1999), and vice versa. Some types are measurable only at the finest scales, while others are regional or global. Most of the types are, however, identifiable across scales.

2.2. Causes of land degradation

The causes of LD have not been comprehensively deliberated in terms of their typology, interrelationships, or possible effects. Not even the terminology is unified, as in addition to the frequently used term "cause" (e.g., Stocking and Murnaghan, 2001; Nachtergaele et al., 2011; Nkonya et al., 2011), some authors (e.g., Barbier, 1997) have used the term "determinant", and others (e.g., Meadows and Hoffman, 2002) have used "factor." Tefera et al. (2002) used the two terms cause and factor, while Nachtergaele et al. (2011) used both cause and driver, without detailing any differences in their interpretation. It is necessary, however, to acknowledge one essential difference between the term cause and the terms factor, determinant, and driver. The term "causes" carries with it a negative connotation of agency, while "factors", "determinants", and "drivers" simply indicate the occurrence of the phenomenon, without raising the issue of an agent responsible for the negative effects of what has happened. For this reason, it is not appropriate to denote as causes of LD such aspects as tenure security, ability to defend rights, and enforcement of rules, but rather tenure insecurity, inability to defend rights, and weak enforcement of rules, respectively. As many authors do not take these nuances into account, Table 2 presents an overview of causes as well as factors, determinants, and drivers.

To date, causes of LD have been mentioned only in an incomplete form or in the context of a specific LD type or research location. Nkonya et al. (2011) distinguished immediate (proximate) and underlying causes, which helps to clarify complicated causal relationships for further study. These authors expressed the complexity of the relationship between these two levels in which some underlying causes appear in other cases as immediate causes and vice versa. An example can be seen in tenure insecurity, which most often appears as an immediate cause of LD but in some cases may be classified as an underlying cause of poverty (Clerc, 2012). Specific causes may in certain cases even be consequences of Nkonya et al. (2011) gave as an example those causes of poverty that lead to insufficient investment in land management practices and to loss of natural fertility. Similarly, degradation of land fertility can also conversely establish or accelerate poverty. Cases where one LD type causes another LD type are also possible, as for example loss of vegetation cover (e.g., deforestation) may be a cause of water erosion. These are further reasons why a general relationship scheme at the level of individual LD causes has not yet been exhaustively described and seemingly never can be.

Authors who include natural processes among causes of LD (see Section 2) essentially agree on the basic division of causes into natural (biophysical) and human-induced causes (Nachtergaele et al., 2011; Nkonya et al., 2011). A number of causes may seem to be

Table 1

Overviewof land degradation types mentioned in relevant typological and case studies.


degradation types

Used in study

Soil physics

Water regime



Oldeman (1994) Scherrand Yadav Stocking and Zuquette et al. Al-Awadhi et al. Bai et al. (2008) Omuto et al.

(1996) Murnaghan (2001) (2004) (2005) (2014)

Water erosion X X X X XX X

Wind erosion X X X X XX X

Compaction X X X X X

Crusting X X X X X

Sealing X X X X

Sedimentation/ X


Increased X


Acidification X X

Alkalinization X

Reduction of X X X X

organic matter

Nutrient leach- X X X X X


Soil X X X XX


Water table X X


Waterlogging X X

Salinization X X X X XX X

Water X


Loss of X X X X X


Decline in X X X



Alien plant X


Air pollution X X

Desertification X X

natural, but are in fact entirely, partially, or indirectly affected by humans and their activities (e.g. air quality, climate characteristics, soil vulnerability, water shortage, vegetation characteristics).

3. Description of farmland ownership fragmentation

In recent decades, a considerable number of European countries as well as China, India, and others (Anantha Ram et al., 1999; Van Dijk, 2003; Tan et al., 2006) have been dealing with the process of farmland ownership fragmentation and its effects. In developed countries, this process also comes into conflict with increasingly concentrated land use, modernization of farm machinery, and increasing need for economically efficient management. Land parcels are frequently so small that they cannot be individually farmed and their owners are forced to rent the land to become part of the larger wholes of large agricultural holdings. This process can be seen as gradually alienating owners from their land, resulting in clear negative impacts on most aspects of sustainable land use (Sklenicka et al., 2014).

Prime examples of extremely fragmented land ownership patterns are Central and Eastern European countries such as Slovakia, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bulgaria, where mean farmland parcel sizes range between 0.3 and 0.5 ha (Kopeva and Noev, 2001; Noev et al., 2003; Sabates-Wheeler, 2005; Ciaian, 2008; Sklenicka et al., 2014). The fragmented, scattered, and frequently inaccessible parcels are not economically viable for

individual farming (Sklenicka et al., 2009). Unlike in developing countries, in Europe this considerable ownership fragmentation contrasts sharply with predominantly modern farming methods requiring large production blocks. The owners of small parcels are essentially forced to rent these parcels to users farming nearby. In the Czech Republic, for example, there are currently more than 3.5 million land owners, but only 30,000 farming entities (Sklenicka et al., 2014). Together with Slovakia, this country holds the European record for alienating land owners from their land, as only approximately 20% of land is farmed by its owners while the remaining 80% is rented. According to Eurostat (2015), such countries as Poland, Ireland, and Romania have the opposite proportions, while the EU average ranges around 45% of farmland being rented.

The main cause of ownership fragmentation is partible inheritance, whereby land is divided among all heirs and is not passed, for example, only to the oldest child. Partible inheritance occurs in two ways. Either the land is physically divided among heirs or the new heirs increase the number of land co-owners (Noev et al., 2003). Both cases result in fragmentation of land ownership rights. In addition to inheritance rights, the fragmentation process is influenced by such other factors as the production potential of the land (more fertile land is less fragmented) and various historic events that caused sudden jumps in the fragmentation rate (e.g., expelling the original inhabitants and dividing the land among new owners, land reforms, and land consolidation; Sklenicka et al., 2009). The second most important cause of fragmentation is the physical divi-

Table 2

Overview of identified causes, factors, determinants, and drivers of land degradation based on relevant studies.

Character Causes/Factors/ Used in study


Barrow (1991) Stocking and Murnaghan (2001) Huber- Lu et al. Sannwald et al. (2007) (2006) Nachtergaele et al. (2011) Nkonya et al. (2011) Other studies

Natural (biophysical) Rainfall X X X X X

Wind X X X X

Temperature X X X X

Topography X X X

Geology X X

Soil vulnerability X X

Vegetation characteristics X X

Water characteristics X

Water shortage X X

Air quality X

Earthquake X X

Wild fires X X

Volcanic activity X X

Human-induced Overgrazing X X


Overcultivation X X

Inappropriate management X X X X X X

Nutrient mining X

Water overdrawing X X

Deforestation X X

Marginalization X X

Mining X

Pollution and industrial causes X X

Climate change X

Inappropriate law and/or X X X


Underdevelopment X X

Poverty X X X X X X

Population pressure/migration X X X X X X

Urban expansion X X

Tenure security X X X X

Access to markets X X

Availability of infrastructure X X

Economic incentives X X

Bioenergy subsidies X X

Labor availability X X

Inappropriate technology X X X

Health problems X X

Inadequate education X X

a Other studies addressing specific cases of land degradation mention from one to three causes that frequently are specific to the given case.

sion of parcels during their sale, or change of use, most frequently as a result of land conversion induced by development pressure (Irwin and Bockstael, 2007).

3.1. Classifying ownership fragmentation as a cause of land degradation

The justification for terming high to extreme levels of farmland ownership fragmentation as a new type of LD is derived from the following arguments that reflect the main negative effects of extreme fragmentation.

3.1.1. Small parcels are not economically viable for individual farming

In the conditions of Central Europe, the mean size of a parcel economically viable for individual farming is given as 1 ha (Sklenicka et al., 2014). Of course, this threshold is lower in more fertile areas and higher in less productive regions. Viable parcel size also differs according to economic level and other specifics of the given country or region. Farming overly small parcels is excessively expensive for farmers due to the increased proportion of unproductive passages over the parcel (Gonzalez et al., 2004) and the effect of travelling

between individual small parcels. That this is no minor issue can be seen in the fact that more than 40% of farmland in the Czech Republic is distributed across parcels smaller than the economic viability threshold (Sklenicka et al., 2014). Another large problem of such highly fragmented ownership patterns lies in the fact that many parcels are not accessible by road due to increasing fragmentation that has not been accompanied by the construction of a denser road network (Sklenicka, 2006). In most of the Central European countries inaccessible parcels cannot be farmed by travelling across neighboring parcels. For the owner of an inaccessible parcel, this limits the possible tenants as the owner is forced to rent to the user of a neighboring parcel. The lack of competition thus considerably affects the rent to the owner's disadvantage (Vranken and Swinnen, 2006). Overall, the freedom of owners to farm their own land is thus substantially limited, as are their options when they rent their land. This form of land ownership insecurity, which is economic rather than legal, further manifests itself in the entirely dominant role played by the land rental market, which often brings with it negative effects (which are discussed within a third argument - see below).

3.1.2. Land divided into overly small parcels has considerably lower value

Due to high ownership fragmentation, larger parcels are more sought after and have a price advantage. In 2008, buyers in the Czech Republic paid 44% more for 1 ha parcels than for average-size parcels (0.4 ha), 2.2 times more for 2 ha parcels, and paid the most for 8 ha parcels (2.8 times more; Sklenicka et al., 2013). Still larger parcels had slightly lower prices. Maddison (2000) confirmed a similar trend in England and Wales except among the smallest parcels, where higher prices led to relatively higher transaction costs. In contrast to these results, Huang et al. (2006) found in Illinois that farmland value decreases with parcel size. It is highly likely that the difference among trends comes from the fact that in the conditions of Illinois very small parcels of the size in European conditions, such as those of the Czech Republic, mostly did not exist and so were not on the market. The observed decrease in prices with parcel size is then consistent with the trend for larger parcels (i.e., those over 8 ha) determined by Sklenicka et al. (2013). Moreover, the continuing division of parcels frequently leads to a loss of direct access to land, which results in further decreases in the market price of the land. Sklenicka et al. (2013) determined for conditions of the Czech Republic that prices of parcels with access to roads are on average 2.1 times higher than the prices for land without direct access.These examples demonstrate that farmland is devalued simply through the physical division of parcels, even when fertility and other relevant attributes influencing land value are held constant.

3.1.3. Land divided into overly small parcels is more frequently rented and tenants take poorer care of it than do owners (Fraser, 2004; Carolan, 2005)

Economically nonviable small parcels are essentially "sentenced" to be farmed through renting. A number of studies presented below show this way to be far less sustainable, as tenants care less well for the land entrusted to them than do farming owners, in the same spirit as one does not wash a rented car. This fact depends strongly on the given country's level of land tenure security. According to land monitoring in the Czech Republic over more than 30 years, for example, parcels farmed by tenants considerably more frequently have diminished organic matter content, increased compaction, evidence of effects from erosion, and overall decreased natural fertility (Research Institute for Soil and Water Conservation, 2014). Regarding erosion control measures, Sklenicka et al. (2015) determined that over the previous 5 years owners used wide-row crops in crop rotation Schemes 45% as frequently as did tenants, while they used soil-improving crops 1.9 times more frequently and contour farming 1.8 times more frequently. In addition, the slope length in production blocks farmed by owners was on average 41% of the slope length in blocks farmed by tenants. A large number of other studies have confirmed that insecure land tenure, caused mainly by short-term lease contracts, does not contribute to soil conservation (e.g., Nowak and Korsching, 1983; Soule et al., 2000; Fraser, 2004). In cases of tenure insecurity, Jacoby et al. (2002) found substantially lower use of organic fertilizers, which have long-lasting benefits for soil fertility. Other studies from across the globe and various political, economic, and cultural systems have also confirmed the substantial positive effect of tenure security on farm and land improvements (e.g., Feder and Onchan, 1987; Gebremedhin and Swinton, 2003; Fenske, 2011), as well as on farm productivity (Feder, 1987; Abdulai et al., 2011). In addition to this effect, Scherr (2000) also found an effect of tenure insecurity on soil compaction and nutrient depletion.

While the first two arguments, Small parcels are not economically viable for individual farming, and Land divided into overly small parcels has considerably lower value, create conditions for LD or are accompanying negative effects, the third argument, Land divided into overly small parcels is more frequently rented and tenants take

poorer care of it than do owners, goes straight to the heart of the definition of LD. Insufficient tenure security results in diminished motivation to invest in holdings, to increase the fertility of the soil, and also probably leads diminished motivation to invest in biodiversity protection, landscape renewal, and any potential water resource protection. As a result, this management type, which we can characterize by a low degree of land tenure security, can be considered unsustainable. Particularly in countries where a substantial part of farmland is divided in this manner, a substantial proportion of land is threated by degradation. This is confirmed, among other things, by the results of long-term farmland monitoring in the Czech Republic mentioned above, where about 80% of farmland is farmed by tenant-farmers (Research Institute for Soil and Water Conservation, 2015; Eurostat, 2015).

A study in Czech conditions (Sklenicka et al., 2014) has demonstrated that very small parcels also display the phenomenon known as the "Farmland Rental Paradox." This describes the tendency of ever smaller parcels (under 1 ha) to create increasingly larger production blocks due to more frequent renting. Large production blocks farmed by a single tenant and frequently comprising as many as hundreds of parcels belonging to many owners often cover large areas. Up to a level of several tens of hectares, such larger blocks can bring economic benefits through lower expenses per unit area (Gonzalez et al., 2004). This scenario is typical for intensive rural areas, while in marginal environments fragmentation usually leads to abandonment and related consequences.

Despite these benefits, however, overly large blocks hundreds of hectares in area bring a number of problems by contributing considerably to water and wind erosion (Jenny, 2012) and by homogenizing the farmland, which leads to numerous problems of landscape and ecology (decreased spatial heterogeneity and landscape connectivity; Turner et al., 2001), water management (lower resistance to hydrological extremes - drought and torrential rain; Qiu and Turner, 2015), and agronomy (consolidating land with various agronomic characteristics into a single block and unifying its farming; Sklenicka and Salek, 2008) with negative impacts also on the visual value of the landscape and on its potential for recreational uses (de Val et al., 2006).

The scheme proposed in Fig. 1 depicts on one side high land ownership fragmentation as one of the underlying causes of tenure insecurity, and on the other side the LD types most frequently affected by tenure insecurity. Other underlying causes depicted include eight socioeconomic or demographic causes describing primarily legal, administrative, cultural and ethical, community, and economic barriers to achieving tenure security. Of interest is the inclusion of overall LD as one of the underlying causes of tenure insecurity. In principle, any LD type or combination of types may cause tenure insecurity. Degraded land discourages land owners and tenants from making large investments in land/farms, particularly on long- and medium-term scales.

Tenure insecurity as an intermediate cause most frequently leads to five LD types (Fig. 1): water erosion, wind erosion (Sklenicka et al., 2015), reduction of organic matter (Jacoby et al., 2002), soil compaction, and nutrient leaching/depletion (Scherr, 2000). At the same time, all of these types relate to soil degradation. It is nevertheless highly likely that tenure insecurity can also cause other LD types, in particular loss of vegetation cover, decline in species diversity, alien plant invasion, and water table drawdown, and others. Such speculations, however, are not yet supported by sufficient high-quality research confirming them, nor are they customarily associated through tenure insecurity to the farmland fragmentation classified here.

Fig. 1. High land ownership fragmentation as an underlying cause of tenure insecurity and the most frequently affected land degradation types.

3.2. Possible remedies

Ownership fragmentation is a dynamic process, the speed of which depends mainly on the factors mentioned above, in a given country. Corrective policies in countries with high fragmentation should focus on three different levels: identifying the causes of fragmentation (slowing the process), decreasing current fragmentation (defragmenting ownership), and remedying the effects.

3.2.1. Eliminating or mitigating the main causes of fragmentation

In this area, consideration is given primarily to legislative interventions into inheritance rights and interventions limiting the freedom of land transactions. However, both of these options are very unpopular in liberal market economies. In most European countries, a complete change of inheritance rights from partible inheritance to non-partible inheritance (e.g., primogeniture) is highly unlikely. Nevertheless, it is realistic to introduce certain features of a majority inheritance system into current law. Consideration can be given to such interventions as establishing the minimum viable size of a single owner's land holdings (farm) and limiting the physical division of individual parcels. A possible method would be to define a certain minimum sustainable parcel size for the natural and economic conditions of a country or region, and to endeavor to protect the land by law from further fragmentation. Similar partial limitations on inheritances and land sales can already be found in the legal systems of some European countries.

concentrated through individual contracts based on the free will of the seller and purchaser. High ownership fragmentation rates are very frequently caused by nonfunctional or weak selling markets. The end result is a feedback loop. National policy can also be helpful, for example by supporting land acquisition loans to farming entities (not speculators). This considerably strengthens the land sale market. The second instrument is land consolidation, which enables ownership to be concentrated through individual plans and resultant changes in the land registry. The principle of land consolidation is most frequently based on a change in the spatial distribution of individual dispersed parcels in order to join individual owners' parcels into larger wholes. However, implementation of land consolidation is problematic in heterogeneous areas where each parcel has distinct features for topographic and microclimatic reasons. The amount of defragmentation achieved in this manner varies across different countries and regions. In the Czech Republic, the initial number of parcels (6.3 parcels per owner; mean size 0.4 ha) could in this manner be decreased on average by one half (Sklenicka et al., 2009). The most radical instrument for ownership defragmentation is land reform. This method of changing ownership rights is generally used, or enforced, only in exceptional cases accompanying a change in the country's political system and other politically or economically exceptional situations. The use of this instrument in countries with a liberal market system is unlikely. Its defragmenting effect can be very "aggressive" depending on the purpose and design of the rules of the reform itself.

3.2.2. Active defragmentation of land ownership

There are essentially three strong instruments for defragmentation. The first is a land sale market that enables land holdings to be

3.2.3. Remedying the effects of extreme fragmentation

The land rental market is a natural instrument in market economies capable of reacting very quickly to problems with farm-

ing mall, economically nonviable parcels. The land rental market is usually most highly developed in countries with poorly functioning land sale markets. The smaller the parcels are, the more intensive and the easier is their rental. In Central and Eastern European countries, the rental market began to work relatively well following the transformation of planned economies into market economies after 1990. In contrast, the land sale market has grown only gradually in these countries and in some it is not sufficiently developed even after a quarter of a century. The second effective instrument for remedying effects consists in farm subsidies. If designed properly, these subsidies can encourage responsible and sustainable land use among owners and tenants. An example can be seen in direct European subsidies to farming entities with payment conditioned on meeting standards for good agricultural and environmental conditions which focus in particular on erosion control, groundwater management, and increasing soil organic matter (Sklenicka et al., 2015). A supportive policy option for reducing fragmentation is when priority for renting and buying is accorded to neighbours (option). This type of policy exists in some European countries.

All three remedial approaches may include the very useful additional instrument of raising awareness and educating land owners and tenants. Information on soil degradation by fragmentation, and on possible remedies, may lead to higher voluntary engagement in slowing fragmentation, defragmentation, and remedying the effects of fragmentation.

4. Conclusions

Despite the relatively complicated causal relationship affecting LD processes, this study has substantiated the argument that high farmland ownership fragmentation is an underlying cause affecting tenure insecurity as an immediate cause for various types of LD. It is therefore necessary to focus attention and necessary resources on prevention and against existing fragmentation. To this end, countries and regions with currently high rates of land ownership fragmentation should act immediately on several levels. They must eliminate or at least mitigate causes the accelerate the fragmentation process, defragment current land ownership, and also remedy the consequences of this process. Even countries that have not until now had high rates of fragmentation are threatened, as the trend of the fragmentation process indicates that a problematic level may be reached in the foreseeable future. In such cases, efforts must be directed primarily at slowing the process.

Land ownership fragmentation also leads to loss of the sense of responsibility for the condition of the land and landscape. Extreme farmland ownership fragmentation can be identified as a major cause of unsustainable land use. In addition, land ownership fragmentation in combination with excessive concentration of land use into a small number of large agricultural holdings can lead to the disruption and even total destruction of traditional social structures and relationships in the countryside.


This contribution was written on the basis of than 15 years of research into the causes and effects of farmland ownership fragmentation, which has been supported in phases by National Agency for Agricultural Research grant No. QH8D, by Czech Science Foundation grant No. GA14-09212S, and by EEA grant No. EHP-CZ02-0V-1-027-2015.


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