Centrality of Private Property

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The 5th amendment of the constitution, which upholds and protects the right of citizens to own private property, is a central foundation of the system of government and economy in the United States.

However, smallholders are often equated with peasants who are either subordinate to powerful elites or who maintain traditional communal rights to land. While the condition of land scarcity can result in a certain amount of renting, leasing, sharecropping, and taxation, the short term exploitation of smallholders would  interfere with the incentive to intensify land use practices that is a fundamental characteristic of smallholders. The misconception that smallholder communities practice communal land tenure has also led to state confiscation of land, such as in the Kano region of northern Nigeria.

Netting argues that where land is a scarce and valuable resource, individual rights of property ownership emerges as an adaptation to those ecological facts. Smallholder land tenure practices therefore resemble private tenure, as heritable, permanently occupied and marked plots of land, along with transaction arrangements such as renting, leasing, and selling. Furthermore, property is put into productive use and actively improved upon, adding economic value to the property as an investment.  Private property rights in fields, livestock, and trees are of significant importance to smallholders who depend upon it for their livelihood and who seek to profit from its bounty. The long term investment in their property as a source of wealth, including its close relationship with human capital in the form of specialized knowledge and experience that is accumulated in the use of a particular plot of land, may imbue the smallholder with a great sense of attachment to their land and provide them with a “unique perspective on sustainability”  (Netting, 63).

It is not only important to recognize the permanent, private property form of land tenure that smallholders practice, but to realize it is as foundational to their way of life as it is to Americans. However, while the smallholder utilizes their property for productive uses, the suburban ideal in America is a lawn of well-fertilized and chemically-treated grass that has little purpose beyond its aesthetic value. Smallholders views towards their private plots of land arguably runs deeper and serves to contribute to environmental sustainability.

The American Context:

Review of Relevant Literature: