Land Tenure and Reform
Djanet, a Saharan oasis in southeastern Algeria
Courtesy LaVerle Berry
The government emphasis on agriculture and the importance of
irrigation in the 1990s is reminiscent of the role of agriculture
in Algeria's preindependence era. European settlers then held
most of the irrigated land and about one-half of the cultivated
area. At independence, the newly installed government took over
for its own use farms vacated by the French and other foreigners;
the lands remained legally owned by the settlers, however. This
arrangement lasted until October 1963, when the authorities decreed
that all land abandoned by the colons would be owned by the state.
By mid-1966 all remaining unoccupied properties had been nationalized
and turned over to workers under a selfmanagement system (
autogestion--see Glossary). A small portion of farmland
had been occupied by Algerians claiming to be previous owners,
as well as by laborers who had worked for the colons. The authorities
also gave some land as a reward to veterans of the War of Independence.
Most of the expropriated 2.7 million hectares, however, were turned
into state farms run by workers' committees, under a socialist
sector that received almost all of the funds allocated to agriculture
but that suffered from a cumbersome central government bureaucracy
and lack of motivation.
Dissolution of the state farming sector was announced in 1971
by Boumediene, who introduced an agrarian reform program that
called for breaking up large state-owned farms and redistributing
them to landless peasants. The only condition with which these
peasants had to comply was to join government-organized cooperatives,
which would provide them with state loans, seed, fertilizers,
and agricultural equipment. By early 1974, Boumediene's agrarian
revolution (1974-78) had given ten hectares of private land to
each of 60,000 peasants and had organized them into 6,000 agricultural
cooperatives. Encouraged by the initial success of his agrarian
reform, Boumediene inaugurated a new program to construct One
Thousand Socialist Villages; in fact, its ultimate objective was
to build 1,700 villages to house 140,000 farmers.
After Boumediene's death in 1978, this program ended, presumably
because of the heavy financial losses it had incurred. Other contributing
factors may have been the new government's concern over poor agricultural
productivity, rising costly food imports, and the generally unsatisfactory
performance of communal farms. Therefore the Bendjedid government
decided to allocate more public funds to agricultural infrastructure,
especially dam construction and water projects.
Serious reforms, which eventually reversed the policy of concentrating
production in state-owned farms in favor of a system of private-sector
management, started with the 1980-84 five-year plan. The government
assigned approximately 700,000 hectares to private farmers, increasing
the total private-sector area to 5 million hectares. At the same
time, it liberalized the system for marketing agricultural products
and gave incentives for intensive farming. Further reforms included
the government's decision in 1987 to break up 3,400 state farms
(about 700 hectares each) into privately owned farms averaging
eighty hectares each. Because the right of ownership was permanent
and transferable--provided the farm remained undivided to ensure
adequate cultivation size--and the new owners were entitled to
own all their equipment, this measure proved an effective incentive
for individual farmers. The new system resulted in higher production
as early as 1988.
Further proof of the authorities' concern with improving agricultural
production to prepare the country for "life after oil" was found
in the 1985-89 plan. The plan allocated higher percentages of
public funds to the agricultural sector, especially water projects.
Investment in such projects rose from 10 percent of the total
budget in 1985 to 14.5 percent in 1990, and the government announced
its intention to add 20,000 irrigated hectares a year.
Although as of 1993 Algeria was a net agricultural importer (total
agricultural imports increased 45 percent in 1989 to US$3.1 billion),
the government has made a special effort to ensure an affordable
food supply for a rapidly growing population. As a result, it
continued to control and subsidize the price of staples--bread,
cooking oil, flour, milk, and sugar. The economic necessity of
lowering food import costs, however, generated enough political
support to allow relatively free markets in agriculture. An important
step was the liberalization of the marketing of inputs and agricultural
output. A 1988 decree allowed private farmers to purchase inputs
from any suppliers they chose. As of April 1991, individuals and
farm cooperatives could engage in wholesale trading in agricultural
inputs; they were also authorized to import agricultural inputs
at the official rate of exchange. Another law promulgated in 1991
deregulated land transactions and eliminated the municipalities'
monopoly ownership of property reserves, making them available
for public purchase.
Data as of December 1993