The Continuity of Family Agriculture and the Succession System: The Basque Case

By Ramos, Guadalupe | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview
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The Continuity of Family Agriculture and the Succession System: The Basque Case


Ramos, Guadalupe, Journal of Comparative Family Studies


INTRODUCTION

The aim of this article is to examine the influence that the systems of inheritance and succession in farm households have on the incorporation of young people from farm households to family agriculture in the Basque Country of Spain. In the last decades Basque agriculture has undergone an important process of transformation derived from the new agrarian environment where the production and activity management have to adapt to the conditions imposed by the European Union and the changes yielded in the Basque and Spanish social structure. The new realities encountered in the Basque rural world emphasize the crisis concerning, and extinction of, farm households as the aging of the agrarian population results in a decline of the number of young people in agriculture. The difficulty of reproduction of the farm households is related to the lack of young people in agriculture, as decrease means an absence of successors that take charge of the direction and continuity of family farming.

This situation has led to consideration of the decision of young people, children of farmers and farm managers, whether they continue with or leave the family farm. Of the reasons that intervene in the decision, the first relevant aspect is the legal problem linked with the rights of succession and inheritance. That is to say, the way in which is realized the transfer of the control of the farm by means of a formal regime that regulates the transfer of inheritance amongst the different members of the family. In Spain, the occupation of the farmer and access to the control of the farm is, for the most part, hereditary (Gonzalez, 1990). If land is not received by inheritance, it is difficult to become a farmer because the capital investment is great.

It is this author's opinion that the laws that govern the succession of the family farm do not help the entry of new generations into agriculture. The transfer of the farm is realized through equalitarian distribution of the inheritance amongst all siblings (children of the farm family), whether employed on-farm or off-farm. This system is regulated by the Civil Spanish Code of 1889.

Traditionally, when the father/farmer wanted to transfer the farm holding, he avoided the distribution amongst siblings of the agricultural property. Rather he searched for a successor within his children--the eldest son or the chosen one amongst others--who inherited the whole farm or most of the inheritance. Usually, the rest of the siblings assumed that the inheritor was the lone inheritor, because the priority objective was the continuity of the family agrarian structure. On this account, the succession of the farm, and therefore its viability and survival, had priority in a customary practice over the distribution of the property established according to the regime of rights attributed in the Civil Spanish Code. Nevertheless, at present and after the diverse changes that have taken place in the Basque agricultural environment, the rights of inheritance of the property occupy priority over the rights of succession. The siblings today do not assume that the brother who is employed on the farm inherits the complete property. This fact, linked to other difficulties to maintain the functional viability of the farm, results, in many cases, with the children that work on the family farms deciding to leave agriculture.

Consequently, the lack of young successors in agriculture makes it important to examine the effects that the equality of inheritance rights has on the continuity of the family farm system. And likewise, it leads to a consideration of the need to return to the customary practice of juridical material inequality in the allotment of the agricultural property. This return to customary practice is necessary in order to assure, minimally, the access and the viability of those young people who can devote their lives to agriculture.

STRUCTURE OF BASQUE FARMS

The purpose of this section is to introduce the main features of the current situation in farm structure and the agricultural labour force of Basque agriculture.

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