Land Fragmentation Challenges: Implications for Agriculture and Community Cohesion

Land fragmentation is a persistent challenge in many developing countries. It is caused by traditional practices of sub-dividing different quality of land parcels comprising a household’s landholding among household heirs.

Land consolidation strategies can be a viable solution. However, they should be tailored to specific local conditions since the success of these strategies will vary.

1. Agricultural Production

Agricultural production is vital for food security, which is the primary concern of most countries. However, the supply side of food security is affected by land fragmentation, which makes it more difficult to produce enough staple crops for a growing population, as exemplified by the Malthusian theory of limited land resources and population growth (Zhang et al., 2016).

Land fragmentation is a major threat to food security in many developing countries. It has negative effects on farmers’ crop production, resulting in lower yields and farm income, as well as increasing the cost of labor input. In this context, it becomes important to understand how to improve farmers’ productivity in order to promote sustainable agriculture.

In this study, we disentangled the relationship between land fragmentation and farmers’ cropland abandonment by using 2-year panel data from the CRHPS. We employed a TWFE model, and a series of robustness checks, including using alternative measures of fragmentation variable, panel logit/probit models, heterogeneity analysis, and mechanism analysis. The results show that the extent of land fragmentation is a significant factor affecting farmers’ decisions to abandon their cropland. This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that land fragmentation increases the cost of own and hired labor input in farming, leading to a greater probability for households to abandon their cropland.

Our regression analysis also shows that, in terms of farmland utilization, the wealthier households are less likely to abandon their plots, which is because they have more options and alternatives for generating other sources of income, such as off-farm employment. On the other hand, the poorest households are more likely to overexploit their land because of survival constraints and reduced time horizon.

Various documented instruments, strategies and policies are available to control the problematic land fragmentation. They can be categorized into preventive measures (such as legal provisions and protection policies for agricultural land) to spot the root causes of the fragmentation, and mitigation measures (such as land consolidation approaches and agroecological development schemes). The latter should consider the specific circumstances and local conditions in order to achieve a more targeted and efficient impact.

2. Community Cohesiveness

Fragmentation is a significant challenge to community cohesion and social stability, as it makes it difficult for farmers to find suitable land for cultivation. In addition, it increases the cost of farming and causes a decline in crop production. It also complicates the process of farm management and leads to low farmer satisfaction with agricultural activities. These issues have been a major cause of smallholder farmers abandoning their cropland.

To address these problems, it is important to understand how fragmentation impacts agriculture and its implications for the society. To do so, we have conducted a comprehensive literature review of the relationship between land fragmentation and cropland abandonment. Our results show that cropland abandonment is positively correlated with the degree of land fragmentation and is influenced by a variety of factors. These include labor costs and difficulty in renting out land. Our study disentangles the effects of these variables using a 2-year panel data from CRHPS. We use the twfe model to estimate the effect of agricultural land fragmentation on the likelihood of cropland abandonment and conduct several robustness tests (using alternative measures of fragmentation, different models, and a heterogeneity analysis).

The negative impact of land fragmentation on farmers’ agricultural production is largely due to the fact that it makes it hard for them to obtain a good return on their investments in agriculture. In addition, it also hinders them from performing timely agricultural operations such as water control and transplanting, and complicates the application of modern technologies (mechanization and irrigation). Finally, it is very difficult to maintain a high level of crop productivity and profit in a fragmented environment.

To reduce this negative impact, it is necessary to promote agricultural land consolidation and land exchange and to regulate the spatial distribution of land resources. In addition, policies should be implemented to reduce fragmentation through implementing a series of land protection measures, including laws on inheritance, minimum land subdivision, land exchange, and prevention of transfers to non-farmers. Additionally, private companies could act as land bank institutions to purchase land from farmers through negotiations-based expropriation programs and create large land funds that can be used as single consolidated viable operational units or leased to big farmers.

3. Food Security

Many of the challenges associated with land fragmentation negatively impact food security. For example, land fragmentation restricts farmers’ ability to engage in mechanization and requires more labor to maintain farmland. In addition, it limits the application of modern technology and increases production cost. It also causes the need for frequent travel between the farm and the house, which imposes higher time costs on farmers and reduces productivity. In addition, land fragmentation makes it difficult to monitor crop production and prevents farmers from taking timely measures for pest control. These factors lead to a decline in agricultural production and increase the probability of cropland abandonment (Yan et al., 2016).

Despite these negative effects of land fragmentation on agriculture, many farmers choose to continue farming due to their strong attachment to the soil and their belief in the necessity of food for their survival. In addition, farmers are under strong economic pressures to produce high-quality crops in order to meet consumer demands and maximize their profits. This leads to a constant struggle between profitability and food security, which is further exacerbated by the fact that many farmers cannot afford to hire agricultural labor to assist with harvesting and processing activities.

In addition, fragmentation increases the amount of time and energy required to cultivate small plots and may require the use of expensive labor-saving devices. This can result in a decrease in overall crop yields, leading to food insecurity. The heightened risk of food insecurity can further aggravate the need for consolidation, leading to more land being abandoned.

Our study disentangled the relationship between land fragmentation and cropland abandonment using a 2-year panel data from the CRHPS. We used a TWFE model, which was supplemented by heterogeneity analysis and mechanism analysis.

It was found that the likelihood of land abandonment was influenced by household size and type, the dependency ratio, engagement in off-farm employment, and land certification. The negative and significant effects of the dependency ratio on the chance of land abandonment suggest that farmers with a greater dependency on others are more likely to quit their farms. Moreover, the positive and significant effect of engagement in off-farm employment on the chance of abandoning farmland is consistent with previous studies that show a relationship between off-farm income and the decision to leave the farm. In addition, the negative and significant effects of land fragmentation on labor input and difficulty in land rent-out are stronger in non-plain regions than in plain areas.

4. Environment

As humans, we require environmental public goods such as clean air and water for survival. These resources, however, are limited in quantity and quality in a given environment. When they are overused in a particular locale, their availability is reduced. When this occurs, their use may negatively impact people or other living organisms in that area. This is referred to as the tragedy of the commons. Examples of a negative impact include reduced availability of clean water, degradation of the quality of air, pollution of the soil and land, loss of visual aesthetics, and corrosion of materials due to acid rain.

Land fragmentation negatively impacts the environment by limiting the amount of space available for agricultural production. In addition, the fragmentation of land can lead to the reduction in biodiversity and the deterioration of natural habitats. In turn, this may cause local and global climate change that further negatively impacts the environment.

In this context, reducing land fragmentation is vital to protect the environment and improve sustainable development. However, land consolidation is a complicated matter as it requires consideration of various factors that influence the decision to consolidate land. The factors that are of importance to consider in the decision-making process include local climatic conditions, soil type, economic conditions, and the social dynamics of land ownership and management.

To minimize the consequences of land fragmentation for the environment, there are several land management strategies that can be implemented. These include voluntary parcel exchange and on-field harvest sales, restrictions on minimum farm size subdivision and absentee ownership, cooperative farming, family planning measures, farmland use (crop) consolidation, and agricultural land protection policies.

In addition to the above, it is important to address the problem of fragmentation through an integrated planning approach that focuses on the land-people relationship. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to understand the complexity of the landscape that is naturally fragmented in terms of physical characteristics such as soil type, size, location, and shape as well as the socio-economic aspects related to its value and market. This will help in determining the best possible policy for land consolidation in a given environment.