The Hama governorate has failed to recognise the rights of ‘al-mughareseh’ farmers, prohibiting them from harvesting their pistachio crops this season and offering their lands up for investment through public auctions held on July 12.
Under Law No. 56 of 2004, which was issued to regulate agricultural relationships, a so-called “al-mughareseh” contract is one in which the farmer gains ownership of part of the land upon completion of the contract, in exchange for planting and caring for the crops. In cases where the farmer’s share of the land is not specified in the contract, it is set at 40 per cent of the land and trees.
According to a correspondent for The Syria Report, “al-mughareseen” farmers living in northern areas of Hama governorate under regime control submitted their objections to having their lands offered for investment in public auctions. They objected in particular to the governorate committees ignoring the land ownership documents that they submitted. Their ownership is based on an “al-mughareseh” contract that gave them ownership over the portions of land they had worked on since 1983. That contract ended in 1994 with the division of the land between them and the original landowner in the presence of witnesses and a special subdivide committee sent by the Hama governorate’s Directorate of Technical Services.
In July, the Hama governorate completed a tally of pistachio farmlands in the rural northern part of Hama and the southern countryside of the Idlib governorate that were owned by absentees, most of whom were forcibly displaced to opposition-held areas. The governorate offered these lands for investment for a period of one agricultural season. These auctions took place without the consent of the landowners themselves, raising fears among other farmers that their lands could soon be seized.
According to the correspondent, some “al-mughareseen” farmers submitted written objections to the Hama governorate against what they described as a “confiscation of their shares alongside the share of the original owner,” who had himself been displaced to opposition-held territory further north. Loyalist “al-mughareseen” farmers were still residing in northern Hama and, therefore, were not absentees.
Lists of the lands being offered for investment in northern Hama, which were shown on governorate and local bulletin boards, indicated that “al-mughareseen”, farmers and tenants were still present on some lands. However, the governorate refused to recognise the “al-mughareseen” farmers’ ownership over their plots of land because of what it called the “absence” of the original landowners, as well as the inadequacy of the “al-mughareseh” contracts to serve as ownership documents.
This problem stems from the fact that many of these landowners never registered the shares of some “al-mughareseen” farmers in the local land registries. The “al-mughareseen” in these cases simply received their “al-mughareseh” contracts, as well as documents confirming the division of the land, as proof of their ownership. This lack of official documentation became a problem after 2011, amid the demographic change in the area as a result of the displacement of a large number of both original and “al-mughareseen” landowners and even in cases of their natural death.
It appears that a number of legal loopholes allow the governorate not to recognise the rights of “al-mughareseen” farmers. To start, Law No. 56 of 2004 is not congruent with the Syrian Civil Code. Under the 2004 law, if the original landowner fails to transfer ownership of the agreed-upon portion of the agricultural land to the “al-mughares” farmer within two years of the expiry of the contract and without a legal excuse, then the “al-mughareseh” contract becomes an “al-muzaraeh” contract. In this case, the farmer becomes the owner of his share and a partner in the agricultural yield produced by the original landowner. When the landowner transfers ownership of part of the property to the farmer then the “al-muzaraeh” contract is dissolved and each party becomes an independent investor in their own share of the land.
However, in the Syrian Civil Code, “al-muzaraeh” is considered as giving agricultural land to a tenant in exchange for them taking a certain portion of the crops. This is confirmed by the Court of Cassation, where it says that “al-muzaraeh” is a contract in which land is given to another person for cultivation and investment, in return for providing a certain portion of the crop yield.