Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents


Land Tenure and Agrarian Reform

The system of land tenure on the eve of the revolution was anachronistic. Very large estates in the south-central region coexisted with peasant farming in minute, fragmented plots in the north. The small farms typically were owner-operated, with the proprietors' families clustering in villages. Absentee landownership characterized the latifundio system with day-to-day operations in the hands of estate managers. Because of the high concentration of ownership in the south-central provinces, nearly half of the country's agricultural labor force in 1973 consisted of landless wage-earning rural workers whose standard of living was extremely low.

Holdings of over 200 hectares (about 0.3 percent of the total number) accounted for 39 percent of all farm land, whereas at the other end of the scale holdings of less than one hectare (about 39 percent of the total) represented no more than 2.5 percent of total Portuguese farm land.

The Agrarian Reform Law of July 29, 1975, which laid down the principles for the expropriation of land, validated de facto land seizures by rural workers that actually had begun five months earlier. The law provided that expropriation should apply to rural estates in the "intervention zone" south of the Rio Tejo. Lands that could have been expropriated under the provisions of the Agrarian Reform Law amounted to 1,640,000 hectares, but the area occupied by the rural workers reached only 1,140,800 hectares, or about one-fifth of the country's total farm land. On the occupied land, 449 "collective production units" were set up, bringing various estates of the former owners under a single peasant directorate. Major expropriations took place in the districts of Évora, Beja, Portalegre, Setúbal, and Santarém (see table 8, Appendix). Very large collective farms were formed in Portalegre and Beja (averaging between about 3,500 and 4,200 hectares); smaller units were created in Santarém and Setúbal (averaging between about 860 and 1,180 hectares).

As Portugal shifted toward moderation and the political center, collectivized agriculture increasingly was perceived as a counterproductive approach to the problems of the rural south. By the middle of 1990, only one-tenth (104,000 hectares) of the more than 1,080,000 hectares taken from the original landowners was still in possession of the remaining 30 collective farms. The gradual decollectivization of agriculture, which began in modest form in the late 1970s, culminated in a reformed agrarian law enacted by parliament in late 1988. Under its provisions, the maximum size of properties eligible for reprivatization was increased, and land could be divided among the heirs to an estate. Many collective farm members agreed to accept cash payments from the original owners in order to facilitate change of ownership or received individual titles to small shares of the former collective production units.

Data as of January 1993