Persistence of Land Concentration

Book Chapter (2011)

The Persistence of Land Concentration in Colombia: What Happened between 2000 and 2020?

The high concentration of rural property has been a constant in the history of Colombia. After three failed land reforms in the twentieth century, and decades of armed conflict and public policies that have favored the big landowners, high land concentration persists, with an escalating trend, and now the Gini coefficient reaches a value of 0.86, one of the highest in the world. During the period between 2000 and 2009, rural property became even more concentrated: particularly from 2005 onwards the trend increased, not only because of an increase in the number of properties but also due to the acquisition of new ones by the same owners.

The causes of land concentration in rural areas are diverse. The initial distribution of land during the colonial period, the policies governing the assignment of frontier land, colonization processes, public policies favoring large landowners, and the armed conflict are the factors that have determined the current land distribution in Colombia. Moreover, the thinness of land markets, and their strong fragmentation and high transaction costs are obstacles for market transactions that would transfer land to more efficient producers and would improve equity in land distribution. Finally, the three land reforms undertaken in the twentieth century failed because of the pressures of large landowners, and in the case of the 1994 reform, the intensification of the armed conflict and the ineffectiveness of governmental institutions.

The aim of this chapter is to study the evolution of land concentration in rural areas during the period between 2000 and 2009. We analyze the evolution of the concentration of rural property and its regional distribution. We also identify some exploratory hypotheses about the possible causes of the distribution of property in Colombia, with a particular emphasis on the dynamics of the armed conflict.

Our results show a slight increase in land concentration, especially from 2005 onwards. The concentration has deepened as a result of increases in the size of land plots and the acquisition of new properties by those who were already owners in year 2000. The statistics also reveal a considerable increase in the number of new property owners, presumably due to transferences in the land market, the updating of the cadastral registry, and land seizures.

The municipalities with largest land concentration in rural areas are located in isolated areas at altitudes higher than 2000 meters above sea level (masl), where production is non-agricultural, the soil is poor, natural resources are exploited, and on settlement areas. Finally, although the econometric estimates are preliminary, we find a possible correlation between increases in land concentration and the emergence of new owners, on the one hand, and the presence of armed groups, on the other.

The chapter is organized in four sections, including this introduction. The second section reviews the literature on the distribution of land in Colombia and its relationship with the prolonged civil conflict. The third section contains an analysis of national and municipal trends of land concentration for the period between 2000 and 2009. The fourth section concludes.