The concentration and deconcentration of agricultural land ownership as an indicator of climate change.

The concentration and deconcentration of agricultural land ownership as an indicator of climate change.

The good and bad fate not only of the Polish nobleman and peasant.

Below is the chapter of Polish book entitled Historia naturalna i zmiany klimatu

Bogdan Góralski

Library if Historical Institute of University of Warsaw

Table of content:

1.Introduction                                                                                                                                         1.

2.The humidity of the climate and the structure of land ownership                                                  1.

3.The mechanism of changes in the concentration of agricultural land ownership                   4.

4.The agricultural system of Rome, Byzantium, Ottoman Empire                                                8.

5. What to do to prevent changes in the concentration of agricultural property?                      9.

6.The bibliography you can find in my Polish book entitled Historia naturalna i zmiany klimatu on ResearchGate


This paper discusses the natural phenomenon of changes in the concentration of landed property occurring under the influence of climate oscillations many times in the history of global agriculture. Climate oscillations resulting in changes in air temperature and the amount of precipitation were affecting the profitability of agricultural production, whose changes were causing an increase in the number of small farms or the disappearance of small farms. This phenomenon, which has not yet been recognized, was affecting cyclical political processes over the centuries. This work is a contribution to explaining the role of climate change in the economic-socio-political process of concentration and deconcentration of landed property in Poland in recent centuries.

2.The humidity of the climate and the structure of land ownership

Poland is under the variable influence of Atlantic and continental climates. The causes of climate type changes in Poland are not studied, and learning them would have a positive impact not only on Polish agriculture. It is assumed that the Elbe line is the limit of the impact of both types of climate in Europe. The Atlantic climate is characterized by greater humidity and smaller differences in winter and summer temperatures. The continental climate brings drier air, short hot summers, and long harsh winters. Periodic and regional changes in climate types were having an impact on the profitability of agricultural production, so then smaller, more efficient farms predominated west of the Elbe line, and in the east historically large land ownership dominated (Krasuski 1978: 91). In Poland, regional climate changes are also marked in the north-south direction. In the south, along with the mountain ranges, there is a zone of increased precipitation (Small Statistical Yearbook 1937: 10) improving the conditions of plant cultivation. In these areas the population density increases (compared to northern Poland) which affect the fragmentation of land ownership.

The zone of increased population density in Europe continues in the zone of influence of oceanic climate, which is characteristic for other continents (see East China and West India). The information presented allows drawing the conclusion that the appropriate amount of precipitation (neither too low nor too high) affects the growing population density, and thus the processes of deconcentration of land ownership. In other words, the amount of rainfall that is too low or too high causes a growing concentration of landed property. Wielkopolska is an example of such a region in Poland with too little rainfall and a high concentration of landed property. In the Prussian partition in Wielkopolska, per 100 ha of land owned belonged to farms:

up to 2 ha -2.1% of the land,

2 to 5 ha –3.4%,

5 to 20 ha – 25.2%,

20 to 100 ha – 19.8%,

100 to 1000 ha – 33.0%,

over 1000 ha – 16.5% (Rogala 1956: 25).

Such concentration did not occur at the same time in Galicia (more rainfall), where land ownership was strongly fragmented, because the water conditions allowed to support a family from a smaller farm. As of November 1, 1786, peasants owned 51.3% of arable land in Galicia, including 2/3 of arable land (Groniowski 1976: 75). The following table gives the stratification of the Galician village according to tax burdens in 1893 (Groniowski 1976: 108):

in morgas
Number of
of farms
Income amount of farms in   Rhine zlotys
Do 1,94 756 000 46,60 Do 132
1,94-3,90 338 331 20,83 132-264
3,90-9,95 339 929 20,93 264-660
9,95-39,90 178 879 11,02 660-2643
39,90-99,66 10 102   0,62 2643-6607

An example of the adverse impact of the climate on agriculture is the situation of Russian agriculture. The Russian high-pressure zone, blocking the atmospheric fronts from the Atlantic Ocean periodically carrying life-giving rainfall, is sometimes responsible for the difficult situation of the Russian farmer. Historical literature reported that the productivity of a Russian farmer was usually two (League of Nations 1943: 86-91), three times lower (“Modern German peasant (proudly informed Rudolf Martin)  obtained income three times greater than a Russian peasant from the land. To collect this amount grain that the Russian peasant obtains in a field area of 2.6 tithes, German, French peasant needs only half a tithe (Heller 2000: 683). This was due to more rainfall in western Europe than in Russia. Because of too small plots of farms of Russian peasant’s that were common before and after the enfranchisement in the 19th century, and because of too little rainfall from 1880 to the agrarian crisis before the Russian Revolution (exported 15% of grain production (League of Nations 1943: 9 )) caused that the Russian peasants demanded the dividing of large estates. But as a result of the Bolshevik revolution, there was a concentration of agricultural properties in the form of kolkhozes and sovkhozes in Soviet Russia. This (according to statistics (League of Nations 1943: 9)) improved the supply of basic groceries to the Russian population (after 1920). This improvement was probably due to the modernization of agricultural production and the improvement of climatic conditions, i.e. an increase in the amount of precipitation (see Figure No. 21). Russian agriculture is still very vulnerable to the occurrence of permanent drought characteristics for the cooling of the world climate.

The concentration of land property in Poland in the 16th-18th centuries occurred due to a long-lasting decrease in the profitability of agriculture. The falling Cereal prices on the European market (Abel 1935: 174-175) caused by the stagnation of the European population resulting from the adverse climate of the summit of the Little Ice Age, as well as mass emigration caused the collapse of small farms. Probably similar causes at the same time caused the concentration of landed estates in Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate (Takahasi 1974: 339-348). At the end of the eighteenth century, the processes of deconcentration of agricultural estates began – first in France, and then in the nineteenth century (enfranchisement of peasants) moved to the east of Europe. The processes of enfranchisement of peasants in Europe were probably caused by the sharp increase in grain prices (Abel 1935: 174-175) in 1750-1850 (probably the social protests of the French Revolution and the Spring of Nations resulted from this cause) and the need to ensure the greater agricultural production in conditions of radical cooling and humidity of the climate i.e. deterioration of weather conditions affected on the decrease in agricultural production on the large noble agricultural estates.

The deconcentration of landed estates, the release and enfranchisement of peasants, and the great profitability of agricultural production have unleashed hidden resources of social energy caused large agricultural production, which led to a rapid decline in cereal prices in Europe and calming social sentiment.

It should also be mentioned that from the Civil War (1861-65) to 1920 in the south of the United States, the division of old latifundia (large agricultural estates) into small plots of land cultivated by shareholders (tenants paying rent for crops) continued. The concentration of landed property began again in 1920 and continues to this day (Tomczak 2004). From 1930 to today, the number of farms in the US has decreased from 6.5 million to 2 million, which means that the demand for industrial goods has decreased significantly, the rural population has decreased, the offer of agriculture has decreased, and the demand for agricultural credit has decreased. This is causing the current crisis in the US.

3.The mechanism of changes in the concentration of agricultural land ownership

Many factors have influenced my understanding of the process of concentration and deconcentration of agricultural property over the centuries:

– studying contemporary agricultural literature

– researching current information on world agriculture

– reading historical literature

– research on the Earth’s climate mechanism

– studying the effects of climate change

– understanding the role of freshwater in nature

Studies of the press and modern agricultural literature have revealed the processes of concentration of agricultural property since the beginning of the 20th century on all continents and also in Poland. This made it possible to understand the causal relationship between the general warming and drying of the global climate since the beginning of the 19th century and large-scale economic processes in agriculture. Knowledge of the history of agriculture over the centuries and the repetition of climatic phenomena have strengthened the view on the decisive role of appropriate atmospheric conditions affecting economic processes conditioning the alternating concentration and deconcentration of agricultural property.

The concentration of agricultural ownership in Europe has always been due to the deterioration of farming conditions resulting from a lack of demand for agricultural products. Lack of demand was most often caused by depopulation or, and poor food transport logistics. At that time, agricultural prices decreased. The progressive decrease in the prices of agricultural products caused a worsening of farming conditions for small farms obtaining less profit from a smaller area. Due to the scale effect, small profit from agricultural production affected smaller farms in the first place and did not allow for maintaining them (taxes, costs) and for maintaining owners’ families, which resulted in premiums for larger farms, generating higher profits and having lower percentage costs due to larger production scale. The economic dependence of small agricultural producers on larger farms resulted in the movement of labor resources to the large and concentrated ownership at the expense of small farms (low prices of agricultural products forced the use of cheap labor) and to cities. Small farms fell and were taken over by larger property. The village then depopulated. Latifundia – the noble agricultural estates created fallow lands and forests (afforestation), hedging against falling food prices, which has caused great social tensions during crop failure. Labor expenditure per unit of production is four times higher on small farms than on large ones (Pepliński et al. 2002), so smaller farms with higher unit costs fall out of the market. Increased management efficiency can be obtained by specializing in production. Specialist farms (large cereal farms), extensive and high-intensity farms show the highest efficiency coefficients in relation to the level of net commodity production (Sawa, Parafiniuk 2010). Small farms have to achieve nutritional self-sufficiency, so they run a varied production that makes impossible specialization and high efficiency.

The persistence of this phenomenon (e.g. concentration of land property in the south of the USA has been going on for over 80 years) causes the formation of great latifundia (large agricultural estates). However, it should be noted that latifundia are more prone to crises, with negative effects during long-term climate deterioration. As a consequence of the worse climate in latifundia, there is a larger (than on small farms) drop in agricultural production per hectare and increase food prices. This is illustrated by the example of PRL agriculture. In 1975, in large-scale socialized agriculture, clean production in PLN per PLN 1 of fixed assets was PLN 0.051, and in crop fall 1980 it fell to PLN 0.009. Accordingly, production in small-scale individual farming amounted to PLN 0.292 in 1975 and PLN 0.210 in 1980 – it was 5.7 times higher in 1975 and 23 times higher in 1980 than in large-scale farms (Woś 1985: 331 Table 3). The climate crisis of 1980 caused a 7-fold decrease in production in state-owned farms and a 1.4-fold decrease in small peasant farms, with small farms being many times more productive.

Small farms use capital much better and are more productive per unit of area (Statistical Yearbook of Poland 1967: 256 table 56), so when the climate crisis comes and food becomes more expensive because of the demand for it, economic and political coercion arises causing distraction of great land ownership and the revival of small agricultural property. The phenomenon of deconcentration of great agricultural property was observed before the French Revolution (Taine 1881: 336) and the Spring of Nations (it is about commencing enfranchisement processes). The deconcentration of agricultural assets in France before the French Revolution was forced by rising food prices (huge fallow areas, harsh climatic conditions, and terrible logistics in food transport) and the proletarianization of rural society, as seen in the statistics below.

The composition of the French population was as follows:

Clergy – 130,000 people – 0.47%

Nobility – 173,000 people-0.63%

Townspeople – 581,000 people -21.09%

Peasants ……. 21,437,000 people-77.81% (Macleod-Machlejd 1934: 59)

A more detailed classification of social composition is as follows:

Higher clergy (archbishops, bishops, abbots, priories, canons, etc. 10,000

Lower clergy (priests, vicars, priests without benefits, etc.) 60,000

Religious clergy 60,000

Nobility (including 40,000 old nobility) 173,000

Townspeople – merchants, industrialists, intelligentsia 500,000

Medium-level craftsmen, small traders, etc. 2 925 000

City proletariat 2,385,000

Farmers, possessors (fermiers), buyers, craftsmen 750,000

Peasants owning lands 15,333,000

Farmless peasants 5,354,000      

Total 27,550,000

                                                                    (Macleod-Machlejd 1934: 63)

Arthur Young in a report on a trip to pre-revolutionary France writes that the poor French invested their savings in the ground (Young 1950: 284), encouraged by probably high food prices. The smallest farms producing food for the needs of the owners were created in this way.

The phenomenon of deconcentration of land agricultural  property is influenced by demographic processes. Well, in times of favorable climatic conditions and low food prices (then there is a concentration of ownership), there is an increase in the fertility of societies and an increase in the population – mainly its male part. Low grain prices increase animal production – meat production, the consumption of which increases the sexual desire of the population and increases the fertility rate. When the climate crisis (cooling down) then comes, food becomes more expensive due to a decrease in production, and the population that has just grown too much begins to protest, causing revolutions. Because society sees that vast tracts of land are not cultivated (before the French Revolution more than a quarter of the land in France lay fallow), social pressure arises that leads to the distraction of great landed property and the creation of hundreds of thousands of small farms in France during the 18th century.

The contemporary concentration of agricultural ownership occurring on all continents is the result of difficulties in obtaining access to the markets for selling for the produced food. Existing means of transport are too expensive to transport food to find buyers for subsidized agricultural production of the white man. Potential buyers are in fact poor societies of the equatorial countries, which cannot afford either intensification of their own agricultural production (it would require intensive irrigation in conditions of prevailing warming and drying of the climate) or importing expensive food from the USA and Europe (additionally food prices are too high because of freight prices). Food producer countries: USA, Europe, Canada, are depopulated and their internal demand is decreasing. The problem of obtaining outlets for surplus food produced is, therefore, a logistic problem (cheap delivery of food to the starving of one billion three hundred million people will enable its sale), economic (reduction of demand) and political (subsidies for agricultural production).

4.The agricultural system of Rome, Byzantium, Ottoman Empire.

Rome’s heir was Byzantium, whose traditions were taken over by the Ottoman Empire. The agricultural system operating in the Ottoman Empire was based on an indivisible family farm, supervised by a class of warriors who were representatives of central power. Arable land was the property of the state. Independent peasant farms paid taxes to the state, which kept farmers healthy. The farms used the land on the basis of an indivisible perpetual lease with the possibility of inheritance by one descendant. The land was allocated in an area ensuring family maintenance and generating surpluses to pay taxes and reproduction costs, depending on its fertility from 5 to 15 hectares. Spah warriors benefited from some state taxes and received plots of land for their livelihood, but these were temporary privileges depending on the effects of military service in the sultan’s army. Spah could not own the land. There were constant clashes between the military and the peasants in which the first arbitration instance was a local judge – kadi, elected by the village community. The unresolved conflict was settled by the Sultan, which laid down specific laws to protect peasants against Spah abuse. The Spah had military strength because their duty was to ensure security and the rule of law among peasants. Private ownership of land arose after the decision of the Sultan allocating immunities for the purposes of society. This system worked well during times of strong central power and ceased to pass the exam when the Ottoman Empire underwent by the processes of feudalization and probably there was a concentration of private agricultural property. The development of the Ottoman state and its duration was based on constant conquests ensuring the inflow of new taxes. The stopping of conquests shook the central authority of the empire and the functioning agricultural system. There are reports that in the 17th and 18th centuries agricultural production in the Empire decreased, there was huge inflation (increase in cereal prices) and a state crisis (Inalcik, Quataert, 2008: 61-161). Inflation reduced the value of taxes usually collected in money, weakening the functioning of the power center, whose costs must have been enormous in such a large state. The weakening of the center resulted in the destabilization of the system of power and the weakening of the agricultural system of the state by the likely transfer of power over the land and the state to the hands of the army and feudal lords.

5. What to do to prevent changes in the concentration of agricultural property?

The agricultural system should be based on an indivisible family farm leased perpetually from the state with the possibility of inheritance by one descendant after providing parent-farmers with a pension. Taxation should depend on the production capacity of the farm. The non-hereditary nobility organizes the supervision of the functioning of the system of production and sale of agricultural products and making its income dependent on production efficiency. As the coming cooling of the climate will increase food prices, it will be profitable to produce it even on small plots. This will provide income to masses of immigrant farmers who will arrive in the fertile plains of Europe and North America as well as the income to the nobility. The main advantages of maintaining land control in the hands of the nation’s elite – the nobility are preventing in the future:

– the dividing of land ownership by family divisions,

– buying land to concentrate land ownership,

and also:

– optimizing the organization and financing of food production and processing.

– ensuring the existence of an elite directly interested in increasing agricultural production

Belonging to the rural nobility will depend on the ethical and social attitude of a member of the modern Polish nation. Nobility will be a reward for an exemplary ethical and social attitude in cultivating Polish culture and developing the Polish state.

Translated in Warsaw, 20-21 December 2019                           Bogdan Góralski

6.Bibliography you can find in my Polish book entitled Historia naturalna I zmiany klimatu

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