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The Second Republic sparked considerable enthusiasm concerning the possibilities that a large-scale permanent redistribution of landed property could resolve the social problems in southern Spain. Yet, as this chapter argues, land reform failed because there was insufficient uncultivated land that could be brought under the plough, and labour-intensive agriculture was not feasible under dry-farming conditions. Indeed, cereal cultivation was becoming increasingly capital intensive, especially on the heavy, fertile Campiña soils. The slow and limited progress of settlements under the 1932 Reform Law contrasts with the land invasions in the spring of 1936, which resulted in over a hundred thousand peasants receiving almost immediately over half a million hectares. However they failed to solve the overriding problem of insufficient land and, because weak state capacity implied that land settlements could not be implemented impartially, they simply changed which authority decided who was to benefit, and who was to be excluded.
This chapter challenges contemporary beliefs that latifundios were inefficient by showing that farmers were quick to respond to changes in factor and commodity prices. Land ownership in southern Spain was heavily concentrated, both on the rich cereal lands of the Guadalquivir valley, as well as the huge dehesas found in the less populated upland regions. Contemporaries believed that large numbers of landless workers lived in extreme poverty at the same time as absentee landowners left significant areas of fertile land abandoned, or under-cultivated. In fact, large farms by the late 1920s were especially suitable for extensive cereals and livestock given the growing possibilities for reducing labour costs through mechanization, and there were difficulties to extend labour-intensive olive and vine cultivation. The chapter also shows that the living standards of rural workers improved over time, although they were vulnerable to economic downturns because of the erosion of traditional safety nets, and the failure of the state to create new ones. Finally, it examines why large landowners were often uninterested in extending state capacity.
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