Delinking Land Rights from Land Use: Certification and Migration in Mexico

October 05, 2015

Over the period 1993 to 2006, Mexico engaged in a massive land reform program, giving individual land certificates to 3.5 million households cultivating 52% of the country’s agricultural land. This land had been distributed to smallholder farmers starting in the 1930s, following the Mexican Revolution, with incomplete property rights, basically granting beneficiaries the right to use under highly restrictive conditions: agricultural land had to be kept in production and cultivated directly by the beneficiary and his family with no hired labor, no right to rent to others, and strong state supervision. Certification removed these constraints, delinking land rights from land use. Land can now be rented out, labor hired in, and owners are free to work on or off farm. We use the rollout of the program over 14 years across Mexico to identify impact on labor and land. The property rights reform resulted in a large scale release of labor from agriculture, with households holding certificates 28 percent more likely to have a migrant member. Population in localities with certified land declined by 4%. In spite of labor departure, cultivated area remained unaltered as land concentrated in larger farms.


Alain de Janvry, Kyle Emerick, Marco Gonzalez-Navarro and Elisabeth Sadoulet, 2015.
 "Delinking Land Rights from Land Use: Certification and Migration in Mexico" in the American Economic Review, 2015, 105(10): 3125-49.