Characteristically, under customary tenures the rights of peasant transfer remain limited, obligations for the payment of rent are often imposed upon the cultivating community as a whole, and debts are hereditary from generation to generation. Such conditions still prevail in much of Africa and Asia.
In the Middle East, tenure was long dominated by customary and feudal characteristics and also by religious considerations. Under Muslim rule the state theoretically owned all land, and rent and other tenure conditions were different for Muslims and non-Muslims. A wide variety of tenures grew up, including free usage of land for religious purposes and unrestricted ownership. These have had counterparts in Europe under customary tenures. Large-scale reform and redistribution of land were begun in Egypt by the laws of 1952, and Turkey passed reforms in 1945, but in much of the region customary and semifeudal land tenures prevail.
British reforms in India also illustrate some of the complex problems of replacing customary tenures with a contractual system. In contrast to native systems, the British introduced easy transfer of agricultural holdings and allowed foreclosure of property for debt. Consequently the commercially knowledgeable class, the moneylenders, were able to gain many holdings because the poor and inexperienced peasantry contracted unrepayable debts. Where permanently low rents were established in India, landholders sublet at outrageous prices when land values rose. Similar problems have arisen elsewhere in the transformation from customary to contractual tenures.
In those Asian countries where American influence became strong, tenure reform has usually taken place, as in Japan (1946) and Korea (1948). There and elsewhere, experience has shown that without accompanying reforms of agricultural credit, education, and taxation, enabling peasant proprietors to discharge contractual obligations, tenure reforms are only partly successful. The Communist government of the former Soviet Union long vacillated, for economic and political reasons, between collectivization of land (see collective farm) and allowing a substantial number of private holdings. The same situation has existed under other Communist governments, including that of China.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.