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Agricultural Development

Farming was only marginally affected by the Civil War, yet agricultural output during the 1940s remained below the 1933 level. This low agricultural productivity led to food rationing, substantially contributing to the great hardships endured by people residing in the cities. One of the main reasons for this dilemma was the government preoccupation with industrial selfsufficiency , which resulted in neglect for the modernization of agriculture. The government did encourage grain cultivation with the aim of achieving agricultural self-sufficiency, but heavyhanded efforts to control food prices led to the massive channeling of agricultural products into the black market.

The traditional shortcomings of Spanish agriculture-- excessive land fragmentation (minifundismo) and extremely large land tracts in the hands of a few (latifundismo)-- were, for all practical purposes, ignored. As in the past, latifundio areas with low yields and little irrigation were primarily devoted to the production of such traditional commodities as olive oil, grains, and wine. They were, moreover, the areas where casual rural laborers (braceros) were concentrated, where wage levels were lowest, and where illiteracy rates were highest.

A gradual change in Spanish agriculture began in the 1950s, when prices rapidly increased, and the surplus labor pool began to shrink, as a half million rural field hands migrated to the cities or went abroad in search of a better life (see Migration , ch. 2). Nonetheless, more substantial changes did not take place prior to the 1960s. The Stabilization Plan of 1959 encouraged emigration from rural areas, and the economic boom in both Spain and Western Europe provided increased opportunities for employment. The subsequent loss of rural manpower had a farreaching effect on both agricultural prices and wage levels and, as a consequence, on the composition of Spanish agriculture.

Spain's economic transformation in the 1960s and in the first half of the 1970s caused tremendous outmigration from rural areas. Between 1960 and 1973, 1.8 million people migrated to urban areas. Even later, between 1976 and 1985, when the economy was experiencing serious difficulties, the fall in farm employment averaged 4 percent per annum. The results of these migrations were reflected in the changing percentage of the population involved in farming. In 1960, 42 percent of the population was engaged in agricultural work; by 1986 only about 15 percent was so employed--a marked reduction, though still twice as high as the EC average. As Spain became more industrialized, the declining share of agriculture in the economy was evidenced by its declining share of the GDP. Agriculture accounted for 23 percent of GDP in 1960; for 15 percent, in 1970; and for 5 percent, by 1986 (see fig. 10). In addition, the character of Spanish agriculture in the 1980s had changed. It had become less a way of life and more a way of making a living. Even subsistence agriculture, already in steady decline, had become increasingly market oriented.

The magnitude of the rural exodus permitted the government to undertake a program of parcel consolidation, that is, to bring together into single plots many tiny, scattered pieces of land that characterized the minifundio sector. The government managed to surpass its goal of consolidating 1 million hectares of small land holdings between 1964 and 1967; by 1981 it had brought together a total of 5 million hectares.

The decreased size of the rural work force affected Spanish agriculture because its traditionally labor-intensive practices required a large pool of cheap labor. The workers who remained in the countryside saw their wages advanced by 83.8 percent between 1960 and 1970--a rate that roughly followed the wage increases in industry. At the same time, however, increased agricultural labor costs led to the end of countless minifundios. The 1982 agrarian census recorded the disappearance of about one-half million small farms between 1962 and 1982. The resulting lack of a ready labor supply was an incentive, particularly for large landed estates, to mechanize. The number of farm tractors expanded more than tenfold between 1960 and 1983, from 52,000 to 593,000. The number of combine harvester-threshers increased almost tenfold over the same period, from 4,600 to 44,000. The process of mechanization caused agricultural productivity to grow by 3.5 percent per year between 1960 and 1978, and the productivity of farm workers grew even faster. Nonetheless, Spain's output per agricultural worker remained low. It was about half the EC average in 1985, and it surpassed only those of Greece and Portugal.

During the mid-1980s, Spanish agriculture was roughly selfsufficient in years when there were good harvests, and in nearly every year there were sizable surpluses of olive oil, citrus fruits, and wine that could be exported in quantities large enough to make it the EC's third-largest food supplier. In years of poor or average harvests, the country was obliged to import grains for use as animal fodder, but on the whole Spain was a net exporter of foodstuffs.

Spanish agriculture varied considerably with regard to regional differences in output. Some regions were distinguished by a highly inefficient variety of farming. Specialists estimated that areas dominated by minifundios would have to lose an estimated three-fourths of their farming population if they were to compete effectively with foreign producers. The variety of agriculture practiced along the Mediterranean coast or in the Rio Ebro Valley was, however, highly efficient and capable of keeping up with foreign competition.

Opinion was not united as to what EC membership would eventually mean for Spanish farmers. The EC's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which aimed at supporting most of each member state's farming sector, was expensive, and by the 1980s it was consuming well over half of the organization's revenues. If the CAP were continued, it would not be likely to have a considerable effect on Spanish agriculture, for a system of domestic price supports had long protected the weaker parts of the nation's farm sector. A change of EC policy that encouraged a single communitywide agricultural system might allow those parts of the Spanish agricultural sector that outperformed their rivals in the EC to prosper, while backward branches would probably disappear.

Data as of December 1988

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