Land tenure

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Farming zones in WANA

Overview of the zone





  ABOVE 500 mm



     500 mm  to 200 mm 

    Medic overview

Deep ploughing overview

What cultivar?

 How does your medic grow?


  250 mm  to 150 mm

 Tenure and grazing management


Below 200  mm

Rangeland overview

Action plan for flockowners

Water harvesting

What is the High Rainfall Zone?

    The easy answer is that the high rainfall zone is the area with over 500 mm of annual average rainfall. 

As with the cereal zone, the marginal zone and the rangeland we have avoided using these simple rainfall or length of growing period measurements as a definition. The same is true of the high rainfall zone.

The characteristics of the zone are more complex than just rainfall above 500 mm. The zone is associated with hills and mountains. Steep slopes influence land use.

Throughout the WANA region hills and mountains are responsible for the increase in rainfall.

The farms are usually smaller in the hills and mountains and populations high.

    The farming system changes with increased rainfall and a more diversified range of crops is grown. The cereal zone is wheat or barley with fallow but the high rainfall zone includes other crops such a oilseeds.

This in not a sudden change but depends on local conditions.

I recall receiving a letter from a high official in the World Bank in Washington telling me that my proposal for the use of the medic - cereal rotation in a part of Morocco was wrong because the rotation was for the cereal zone. The district under discussion had a rainfall of 520 mm which he pointed out meant that it was no longer in the cereal zone but the high rainfall zone.

    As the rainfall becomes even higher there is also an increase in altitude, slopes become too steep for cultivation. The land is used for grazing, tree crops and forestry.

    The high rainfall zone is also important for water collection. Many large dams have been built in the zone over the last few decades.

The water is used for urban centres and for irrigation (outside the scope of this site). The protection of the catchment from erosion is an important aspect of the management of the zone.

What are the tenure issues?

    Unlike the marginal zone or the rangeland there is no tenure crisis in the high rainfall zone that requires urgent action.

In these zones with low rainfall tenure changes are an important part of the development package.

Pasture establishment and grazing management are going to be difficult without some tenure changes.

In the High Rainfall Zone some changes are desirable to anticipate future problems.

The future problems relate to small farms and their further subdivision due to inheritance.

The countries of the WANA region need to learn from the mistakes of the countries on the northern shores of the Mediterranean.

Their failure to adapt to changing conditions has resulted in large areas of farming land being abandoned. It can be argued that this is a good thing because of the cost of subsidies and the surplus production of cereals and livestock products in the European Union.

These factors do not apply in the WANA countries. They have large food deficits not surpluses.

The lack of tenure flexibility within countries such as Italy has meant that as cereal production became unprofitable on small farms in the hills and mountains the farms were abandoned.

This change was not simply a poverty-push but included a pull to better jobs in the industrial cities.

A more flexible approach to tenure would have allowed the farming system to adapt to changing economic conditions.

It is obvious that most of the small farmers would have left the land (perhaps 80 or 90%) but not all of them.

In some parts of Italy the small arable farms have been converted to larger sheep farms by livestock farmers from Sardegna but the process is slow and difficult as it requires the purchase of the land.

In many regions virtually every farmer has abandoned farming.

    The WANA countries should avoid these mistakes and try to mange a gradual process of change.

Land ownership and land use

    Land ownership has been one of the most politically charged issues in most countries for centuries.

The changes made in Italy during the 1950s tried to redress the wrongs of the previous centuries by placing more power in the hands of the farmers and reducing the power of the landlords.

It is a familiar story throughout the world of rich, large landlords and poor farmers with little alternative employment.

It has become a common theme in land reform programs world wide.

In the WANA region there are certainly some large farms particularly in countries such as Morocco where the former French colonial farms were taken over by wealth Moroccan families but in the high rainfall zone large farms and small tenant farmers is not a significant problem.

The problem is many small farms and these farms becoming even more fragmented.

As employment opportunity become available or are perceived to be available farmers leave for the cities or overseas.

There is a need for a flexible system of tenure to allow other farmers to use this land.

If there is no mechanism for secure tenure the land will be abandoned.

The small farmers do not want to sell as they have a family attachment to the land. Other farmers do not want to buy as have not the finance.

Renting and share farming

    Renting and share farming have generally been seen as undesirable.

They have been seen as exploitation of the farmer by the landowner.

In many or even most cases this may be true but it is quite easy to structure land laws that allow contracts to be negotiated among equals.

Once the parties have equal or near equal bargaining strength the renting and share farming agreements provide an excellent means of providing greater flexibility.

    Share farming

    Share farming provides a particularly useful means of cereal farming. As farming has become more mechanised small farmers find it more difficult to grow cereals.

They cannot afford to purchase all the machinery themselves.

Their small area cannot possibly justify the cost.

They can hire the machinery from a cooperative if one is available.

They can use a contractor but a contractor needs to be paid even if the crop fails.

A further alternative is share farming. The contractor or a neighbouring farmer grows the crop in return for a fixed share. The risks for the small farmer are much less.

    This is a complete reversal of the traditional view of share farming.

It is not the large landowner employing poor share farmers but a small landowner employing another small farmer or contractor on shares.

The bargaining strengths of both sides is roughly equal.

The concept is used to share risk as well as returns and to provide opportunities for the better utilisation of machinery.

    * Share farming agreements.

     Farmers associations and governments can encourage share farming by establishing a series of model agreements.

These agreement determine the relative contributions of both sides and their returns.

For example in Australia it is generally accepted that the share farmer provides all the machinery and does all the work for a half share.

The landowner provides the land, the seed and the fertiliser for his half share. Alternatively the share farmer provide the machinery, labour, seed and fertiliser in return for a two thirds share. Agreement need to be spelt out in more detail that this and model agreement are a useful means of doing so.

    * Registration.

    Usually the agreement is simply negotiated between the landowner and the share farmer but registration of the agreement may be useful if the share farmer requires credit or if the agreement is for a number of years.

Registration is with the land title office and should be registered over the land just as a mortgage or other contract is registered.

It allows the share farmer the opportunity to borrow for working capital for fertiliser and seed or if the agreement is for some years for machinery.

If the land is sold the share farmer is secure as the agreement is carried over.

    * Arbitration.

    Disputes will occur and a cheap form of local arbitration rather than costly legal proceeding would be desirable. Clauses in the agreement can force both sides to use arbitration rather than the courts.

    * Credit for share farmers.

    Formal agreements and registration should provide the basis for credit.

Banks and other credit providers need to be encouraged and educated about share farming so they will provide credit.


    This can be regarded as roughly equivalent to share farming for livestock.

Agistment is the sale of pasture or cereal stubble to another livestock owner.

It is different from the current practices as the owner retains more control and is thus able to exercise grazing management.

It also protects the livestock owner.

Instead of a simple sale of the pasture or stubble for a single payment an agistment agreement provides the sale on the basis of grazing days. (See  Stocking medic

The owner sells the feed on the basis of a price per sheep (or other livestock) per day.

The owner can therefore terminate the agreement (with some notice) when he thinks the pasture has been grazed sufficiently.

On the other side there is a strong incentive for the flockowner to terminate the agreement also when the pasture is over-grazed.

If he is paying for every sheep every day he does not want to leave the sheep on the pasture if he is not getting full value.

If he starts to feed grain for example it is better to take the sheep to a feed lot.


    Share farming and agistment are farmer to farmer arrangements that add flexibility and efficiency to small farming operations.

For example farmer A may decide to concentrate on livestock and adopt a Zaghouan style of rotation.

The small area of cereals can be more efficiently farmed on a share basis.

Farmer B on the other hand may decide to expand as a cereal farmer, contractor and share farmer.

He may decide that livestock take up too much time and put his pasture and stubble out on agistment.

In the case of renting the owner of the land has generally withdrawn from most active farming.

He may have taken up other employment.

For many reasons this does not always mean that the land is sold.

    Again farmers associations and government should develop model renting agreements that allow the tenant to have some security to invest in the land.

This requires an agreement for three or more years.

It also requires compensation for fertilisers (on a suitably discounted basis) and other investments made by the tenant if the agreement is terminated.

    On the other side the landowner may require some level of investment and will certainly need protection again over-grazing, excessive cultivation and other management practices that lead to erosion.

    *  Agreements, arbitration and registration.

    As with share farming model agreement, arbitration and registration all play a part in a fair and efficient system of renting that allow the rights of both sides to be protected.

    * Setting the rent.

    The tenant takes over the farming of the land.

The tenant pays rent at a fixed rate and therefore takes over the risk.

The rent is determined by agreement when the tenancy begins but after that mechanisms need to be established for changing the rent within the agreement.

If these are agreed at the time the tenancy is drawn up there is less disruption when the tenancy has finished.

Price levels for the products of the farm are a good starting point.

If they have risen or fallen over the life of the tenancy the new price levels can be used to adjust the rent for the next period of the tenancy agreement. If for example the average price has risen by 10% over three years the landowner would expect a 10% increase in rent over the next three years.

The tenant might object.

It would then go to arbitration

If that failed the agreement would expire. The landowner would need a new tenant.

    Emergency adjustment of rent should also be allowed for within the agreement.

If there is a severe drought for two years or some other disaster the tenant should through a formula be able to apply for a temporary rent adjustment.

It is easier if the framework for these adjustments are established by the model agreements.

For example a single drought year can be considered a normal farming risk.

The tenant should take this into account when budgeting his rent offer.

Two drought years in succession in the High Rainfall Zone are unusual and could form the basis of a rent review.

Common land


  Management of common land is an important part of the development package.

There are considerable areas of land that can be developed for pasture in the WANA region.

In North Africa in particular there are areas of marquis (an oak scrub about 2 m high) which has considerable potential for improved pasture.

Once the pasture has been developed it needs to be fertilised and managed.

The pasture can make a considerable impact on the incomes of local farmers who have grazed the area in the past.

The improved area needs a better form of management.

It is impractical to divide the common areas into tiny plots for each flockowner and a form of group management is more efficient.

The tenure and organisation of these cooperatives plays a vital part in the development package which includes clearing, seeding and fertilisation.


     In the mountains there are many state forests but there are also plans to convert some of the common grazing areas to plantation forests.

This has been done in southern Europe but the circumstances are quite different.

Europe has a large surplus of food products and fewer and fewer flockowners willing to tend sheep and other livestock on common grazing lands.

It is sensible to convert some of these areas to forest although the lack of consultation has led to opposition and the burning of the plantations on occasions by disgruntled former flockowners.

The livestock option is better suited to the WANA region.

It is impossible to predict the comparative profitability over the next 25 to 40 years of the forest rotation for pines but at present sheep meat prices are high and rising in the region while prices for low grade pine are low and falling.