The paper explores how we might go about understanding the political conditions for poverty alleviation via agrarian reform can be understood. It argues that the traditional conceptualisation of agrarian reform and its politics – which presents a near impossibility in typical political configurations – is too limiting.
The traditional economic focus on intersection of landed rights, agriculture and poverty needs broadening to incorporate technological change enabled by the biological revolution and the importance of ecological systems that support both agriculture and survival strategies of the poor. The traditional political focus on agrarian classes needs broadening to incorporate new social forces interested in the social correlates of land-based inequality – new social movements – and their domestic and international allies. The argument nevertheless reaffirms the importance of classic agrarian reform in its dual contributions to direct relief of poverty and democratising effects which enable other pro-poor reforms to work more efficiently.
Recognising that reform of property systems and enablement of social democracy contribute to poverty reduction in most rural socities, the paper concludes a policy agenda for pro-poor reform must retain elements of the venerable core of the agrarian project and yet recognise the potential of larger coalitions for the poor. These elements include environmental integrity and regeneration, women’s rights, human rights, cultural survival and democratisation. This analysis is not meant to replace class with postmodernist identity politics, but rather to emphasise the reality of new coalitional possibilities.