Land Use and Tenure

Land Use and Tenure

Three categories of landownership existed in Cyprus during the Ottoman period: private, state, and communal. This division continued to characterize landholding in the Greek Cypriot area in 1990. Most land was privately owned. The largest private landowner was the Church of Cyprus, whose holdings before the Turkish invasion included an estimated 5.8 percent of the island's arable land.

Unrestricted legal ownership of private land dated only from 1946, when the British administration enacted a new land law that superseded the land code in effect under the Ottomans, in which all agricultural land belonged to the state. Those who worked the land were in effect hereditary tenants, whose right to the land was usufructuary. Land could be transmitted from father to son, but could not be disposed of otherwise without official permission.

The Immovable Property (Tenure, Registration, and Valuation) Law of 1946 established the present-day legal basis for landholding. All former state lands that had been properly acquired by individuals were declared to be private property; private property as defined in the former Ottoman land code also continued to be private property. Communal land remained the property of villages or towns, and all unoccupied and vacant land not lawfully held (most forest land, for example) became state land.

Both Greek and Turkish inheritance practices required the division of an estate among the surviving heirs. At the time of the 1946 law, fragmentation of land was already great, many holdings did not have access roads, and owners frequently possessed varying numbers of plots that might be separated by distances of several kilometers.

Despite the 1946 law, however, fragmentation of plots continued. The 1946 census showed 60,179 holdings averaging 7.2 hectares. By 1960 the number of holdings had risen to 69,445, an increase of 15.4 percent, and the average holding had decreased to 6.2 hectares. By 1974 the average holding was an estimated 5 hectares. Holdings were seldom a single piece of land; most consisted of small plots, an average of ten per holding in 1960. In some villages, the average number of plots was 40, and extremes of 100 plots held by a single farmer were reported.

The government enacted the Land Consolidation Law of 1969 to resolve the problem of land tenure. The law established the Central Land Consolidation Authority, with the power to buy and also acquire compulsorily land and other property, which it could sell or use for land consolidation. The authority's board included members of several ministries and departments and also representatives of the farmers. At the village level, committees of government representatives and local farmers coordinated and supervised the local program.

Land consolidation consisted of merging fragmented holdings. Dual and multiple holdings were to be eliminated, and plots smaller than the minimums listed in the 1946 land law were to be expropriated. Government-owned land could be used to enlarge holdings; recipients could purchase the land at current market prices, paying in installments at low interest rates. A farmerowner who lost land in the redistribution process was to receive land having the same value as his former holding. The land consolidation program also involved the construction of a service road network to connect all plots to larger roads.

By the end of 1988, twenty-eight land consolidation projects had been completed, and thirty-one projects were underway. Where projects had been completed, minute plots were almost completely eliminated, the average size of plots increased by 100 percent, and the number of plots declined by about 70 percent.

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