Latifundia are large agrarian estates often associated with extensive farming especially in the South (in Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura), frequently involving a monoculture based around pasture in mountainous areas and arable crops or olives in the lowlands. Their presence has had a profound political and social significance in the development of Spain, creating on the one hand a deeply conservative landed nobility, frequently absent from their farm holdings, and on the other, an impoverished landless peasantry denied access to the ownership of viable farms. Latifundia were part of a system of class domination and suppression, a feudal society, fostering militant labour organization and precipitating rural emigration (see also land tenure), a stumbling block to agricultural modernization and broader economic development.
   Many of the large estates can be traced back to the Reconquest when land was granted in perpetuity to the nobility, the military orders and the church. Large tracts of land also became the common lands of municipalities. A number of factors led to increased concentration of land in the hands of a small number of owners, the neglect of land and the loss of tax revenue by the state: the exemption of church property from taxes; the conversion of arable land to pasture as part of the sheep-rearing economy of the pastoral brotherhood of the Mesta, (owners of sheep herded back and forth across Spain who gained significant privileges and monopolies from the late thirteenth century); the system of inheritance of entailed estates by primogeniture (mayorazgo), by which a great house could ensure that its possessions passed intact from one heir to the next; and matrimonial alliances which consolidated great blocks of land into the hands of a powerful few.
   This prompted the disentailment laws of the midnineteenth century under which church and municipal lands were expropriated by the state and sold at auction. The effect of disentailment, however, was to transfer land from corporate owners to wealthy individuals. Under the Second Republic measures were implemented to break up large estates, but these measures were disrupted by the Civil War. The Franco regime then reversed the process of expropriation and switched the emphasis in land reform to irrigation, land settlement schemes and land consolidation.
   In the latter part of the twentieth century the issue of latifundia faded from the national political agenda as fewer people sought a livelihood from agriculture, with the modernization of agriculture and the European Common Agricultural Policy, and with the welfare state. Outward migration during the 1950s and 1960s released pressure on the land and diverted attention away from discontent over land ownership. By the time migration slowed in the 1970s, and a political regime was installed that was more sympathetic to the problem, the problem itself had partly evaporated. Modern large estates are essential in areas of low yield grain growing such as the meseta of central Spain, and in many areas they are company farms practising the most modern agroindustrial techniques.
   Nevertheless, the break-up of large estates may still offer opportunities for a more productive use of the land and the creation of employment (in 1989 farms of 500 hectares or more occupied one quarter of land used for agriculture in Spain). Following the establishment of democratic government in the 1970s, a number of laws were passed permitting the expropriation of large estates where land could be shown to be under-utilized. In Andalusia (where it is written into the Statute of Autonomy that the government should pursue agrarian reform), the process of identifying such estates was begun in 1984. However, little expropriation had occurred by the mid-1990s.
   See also: agriculture; land tenure
   Further reading
   - Giner, S. and Sevilla, E. (1977) "The Latifundio as a Local Mode of Class Domination: the Spanish case", Iberian Studies 6, 2: 47–57 (a discussion focusing on the definition of latifundia).
   - Maas, J. (1983) "The Behaviour of Landowners as an Explanation of Regional Differences in Agriculture: Latifundists in Seville and Cordoba (Spain)", Tijdschrift voor Economische e Sociale Geografie, 74, 2: 87–95 (an indication of the changing use of large estates).
   - Martínez Alier, J. (1971) Labourers and Landowners of Southern Spain, London: George Allen & Unwin (a specific case study from the province of Cordoba in the 1960s).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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  • Latifundia — are pieces of property covering tremendous areas. The latifundia (Latin: lātifundium ; lātus , spacious + fundus , farm, estate ) of Roman history were great landed estates, specializing in agriculture destined for export: grain, olive oil, or… …   Wikipedia

  • latifundia — /la ti funˈdi ə/ plural noun Great landed estates (also (sing) latifunˈdium, (Italy) latifondi /lä tē fonˈdē/) ORIGIN: Pl of L lātifundium, from lātus wide, and fundus an estate …   Useful english dictionary

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  • latifundia — is., Lat. İlkel yöntemlerle ve düşük verimle işletilen geniş tarım alanları …   Çağatay Osmanlı Sözlük

  • latifundia — Large land holdings in Latin America which originated as imperial grants to settlers from the Spanish crown. With the incorporation of that continent into the world economy they slowly evolved from a form of feudalism into capitalist estates… …   Dictionary of sociology

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