Explained: Agricultural Land Ownership, Between Agrarian Reform and Reclamation
The Agrarian Reform Law No. 161 of 1958 allowed the Syrian state to expropriate more than the previously determined ceiling for agricultural land ownership and to redistribute the expropriated land to small farmers. On the other hand, the Agricultural Land Reclamation Law No. 29 of 2012 legalised state expropriation of agricultural land with the goal of increasing its productivity and then redistributing it to rights holders after deducting any land that is considered to be in excess of the ceiling for agricultural land ownership.
Under Law No. 161 of 1958, the maximum limit for agricultural land ownership is 80 hectares of irrigated or wooded land and 300 hectares of rainfed land. The state compensates the owner in return for expropriating any land in excess of those limits in accordance with expropriation laws. Afterwards, the state has the right to preserve part of the expropriated land that would be used in projects of public benefit or to even to sell it. However, the state’s main role is to hand down the right of usufruct of the expropriated lands to small farmers. The farmers then gain full ownership of the land after paying instalments over a period of 40 years.
Meanwhile, Law No. 29 of 2012 is directed at preparing a given piece of land after reclamation to become suitable for irrigated agriculture; this is what the law defines as the process of agricultural reclamation. Furthermore, Law No. 29 sets its own upper limit (16 hectares) for agricultural land ownership entitled to farmers after the reclamation process. Ownership of any land in excess of that limit goes to the state. The landowners pay the cost of the reclamation process, which is determined by finding the average of the “real” cost of land reclamation.
Both Law No. 161 and Law No. 29 work to limit the rights of farmers to dispose of their agricultural land. The most recent amendment to Law No. 161, which was issued as part of Law No. 61 of 2004, prohibited beneficiaries of agrarian reform land from disposing of the land granted to them until five years had passed since they registered the property in their name in the land registry and obtained approval from the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform. Law No. 29 meanwhile prohibits beneficiary farmers from building any facilities on the lands distributed to them. A “prohibition of disposal” note is also placed in the land registry entry for each of those properties and is not removed until completion of the payment process.