Local authorities sometimes play a role in the local implementation and monitoring of national laws regarding land access and land markets. They can also activate tools at the local level to enable better use and distribution of land.

Policy tools to intervene in land markets vary across countries, and so does the role of local authorities in applying them. A few direct intervention options are summarised in the following table. Depending on your context, these may inspire you to become more proactive with tools that exist in your country or to advocate for a reform of national frameworks (see advocate section) if you need more land tools and powers for local authorities.

Policy instrumentPossible role of local authorities

Land consolidation

(i.e. planned readjustment and rearrangement of fragmented land parcels and their ownership)

  • determine areas where to carry out a land consolidation process

  • realise a survey, public consultation, public advertising if a formal consolidation process occurs

  • organise land exchanges and land transfers (either as part of a larger consolidation process or enabling farmer-to-farmer exchanges on a regular basis, see the Ille-et-Vilaine example below)

  • look for funding to finance development actions in the area where a land consolidation process has occurred, manage and channel public work towards better agricultural infrastructure

→ or call on to a higher level of government to trigger the process and facilitate their local action.

Pre-emption rights

(i.e. the contractual right attributed to certain entities to acquire property before it can be offered to any other person or entity)

  • register and publicise land sales/transfers

  • advertise land sales to parties with pre-emption rights

  • control that land is being transferred to the party with the highest pre-emption right, arbitrate when there are concurrent rights

  • notify relevant authorities of land transfers

  • give directions for how pre-emption rights should be applied through local development agendas

  • applying a public pre-emption right when it exists to achieve strategic goals (e.g. moderating agricultural land prices, protecting land…)

→ or take part in land agencies or commissions that do all of the above

→ see the box “Zoom on the role of local authorities within the new Romanian land law” below for more details on how local authorities can administer land transfers

Reclaiming abandoned land

(i.e. more or less enforceable procedures to promote the recultivation of fallow lands)

  • identify lands that are underused or abandoned, trigger a legal process to promote recultivation

  • facilitate contacting owners and discussing with them options to recultivate the land

  • support rehabilitation of abandoned lands

  • support identification of and contracting with farmers to recultivate abandoned lands

→ or collaborate with other levels of government involved in triggering recultivation processes and facilitate their local action

→ See the Moëlan-sur-Mer example below

Public land banks and land banking

(i.e. buying or identifying land for future use. Land banking can sometimes be used for aggregating parcels)

  • identify land offers and land demands, centralise information through a website (see box “Land banks in Spain”)

  • act as an intermediary between land offers and land demands

  • carry out temporary purchase or ”banking” of land for strategic purposes (see the Ille-et-Vilaine example below)

Other land redistribution schemes exist, but they are often part of larger land reform processes and are often carried out as part of a national policy rather than decided at local level.

The Ille-et-Vilaine department temporary land banking and facilitation of land exchanges

The department of Ille-et-Vilaine (Brittany region, France) uses different levers such as temporary banking of land for new farmers and mutually agreed exchanges of plots to encourage young farmers to set up agricultural activities and support local farms.

  • Land banking is carried out in partnership with the regional SAFER rural land agency. The department pays the agency’s management fees to carry out the purchase of plots up for sale, temporarily hold the land, and later transfer it back to new entrants. A lease contract can be realised while the land is held by the land agency, to facilitate the start of new farming activities. The financial support of the department is only provided to purchase land for new entrants whose projects meet specific sustainability or diversification criteria.

  • Mutually agreed exchanges of plots in order to maintain, strengthen and improve the viability of existing farms is a procedure provided for in the French Rural Code. The Ille-et-Vilaine department supports farmers who voluntarily engage in this procedure through subsidies to cover part of the notarial and/or surveying costs linked to the exchange, with a ceiling of €1000 per party for legal documentation costs.

Zoom on: The role of local authorities within the new Romanian land law

Key features:

  • Local authorities administer pre-emption rights and notifications of land transactions

  • Local authorities manage and validate land sales

The main policy tool which regulates agricultural land sale in Romania is the Land Law (Law no. 17/2014), which stipulates the central role authorities have in this process. The objectives of the law are threefold: ensuring food security, protecting national interests and exploiting natural resources in accordance with the national interest; establishing measures to regulate the sale of agricultural land located in the countryside; and the consolidation of agricultural land with a view to increasing the size of agricultural holdings and establishing economically viable holdings.

The Land Law stipulates seven categories of pre-emptors and their priorities. The first tiers are co-owners or relatives, then the leaseholder, followed by owners or lessees of neighbouring land. The fourth tier is young farmers, as defined by EU regulation. The last tiers are agricultural research institutions, other natural persons who reside in the same or neighbouring administrative-territorial units where the land is located, and finally the Romanian state.

The local authorities – town halls and municipalities – are the entities managing the land transaction. They start by registering the seller’s request for posting the sale offer to bring it to the attention of pre-emptors. It is also the local authority’s obligation by law to then submit to the central structures (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and State Property Agency) a file containing the list of pre-emptors, copies of the request for posting the sale offer and all other documents.

It is the local authority’s responsibility to identify and notify the holders of the pre-emptive right, at their address of residence. The pre-emptors then can express their intention to purchase in writing, communicate their acceptance of the seller's offer and register it at the town hall where it was posted, which will make this information public. If there are more pre-emptors accepting the price offer, the local authorities assess the tiers they belong to and establish who has priority in buying the land. However, if one offers a higher price, the seller can restart the whole procedure by registering a new offer for sale at the new price with the local administration. The final notification required for the conclusion of the contract of land sale is issued by the local administration for surfaces of up to 30 ha, and by the central structure for land over 30 ha.

The central structures intervene in the process of land sale if the buyer is not a pre-emptor, verifying that they comply with the law requirements needed to acquire the land. The local administration has the responsibility to make public all this information. The information about the land is also managed conjointly: while the National Land Registry is managed by the Ministry, the local public administration authorities have the obligation to provide and disseminate the information, together with the National Cadastre and Real Estate Agencies.

The central role the local authorities have in land transactions according to the Land Law places significant responsibility at the local level. This empowers the local institutions and community, but also makes land access susceptible to the relationships in the community, and thus conditioned by local dynamics of power. This translates into some mayors going in person to inform young farmers about available plots in order for them to be able to exercise their pre-emption rights, while others can choose to go directly to commercial companies. Local authorities thus play a pivotal role in regulating access to agricultural land, being concomitantly the direct enforcers of the Land Law and the ones who hold decision-making power in the community.

Action of local authorities in relation to the other actors in the land transaction process

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