Access To Land

Policy Environment

The governance over land in Italy is the result of the deep structural changes that society and the rural world has undergone in the last decades. Moreover, Italy stand out for diversity – cultural, social, geographical, historical – and this is reflected in the layer of institutions. As a result, the system in charge of land policies is composed by many different institutional actors and most of the decisions regarding agriculture and the use of land are taken at regional level – or even lower – therefore, there is a wide variety of approaches and policies.
The higher body of governance is the ministry of agriculture but than, there are also regions which have more room of maneuver.

Administration of agricultural policies

Agricultural policies are administered through a central body – the ministry of agriculture policies and forestry and its decentralized departments. The ministry takes part to the international and European forum - off course, Common Agriculture Policies are the framework national and regional level must adhere to - and then share a programmatic economic and political plan with the regions.

Regional competences and fragmentation

It was 1972 when competences on agriculture passed from the ministry to the regions, but overlap and ambiguity are still very common. That has been a very critical moment due perhaps to lack of central coordination and excessive regional legislative autonomy.

Regions have primary competence for agrarian subjects and, according to the broad national planning, define the real working plan. Regional government are quite different one from the other, some are very centralized while other are particularly decentralized which call for all provinces and, sometimes, even “comunità montane”- local government bodies composed by municipalities located in mountainous areas in charge with the needs of these particular part of Italian territories. If on the one side, this allow for deep local participation, on the other, decision process can be easily stopped by local interests: as the general director for rural development, infrastructure and services of the ministry of agriculture put it “basically, who is against decides”

Commons characteristic in the various regions

However, regarding land, a few things can be true to all regions:

  • After sixty years from the agrarian reform, the issues related with the ownership of farmland are still crucial in the socio-economical dynamics of farming sector all over the country. For two decades after the second world war government intervention on land structure was led by the recognition of small and medium family farms needs. Afterwards, however, with societal and economical changes, new issues appeared but the adjustment needed was not longer led by the state. For a few decades, the only interventions were assisted credit (up to 2009) meant to allow ownership to those category who couldn’t afford it and legislation on lease contracts. In 1982 a new law of lease was approved (legge 203/82) which radically changed the legislation on leases (allowing freedom on time span, price and other lease features). Just over last decade, legislative intervention moved from taxation and credit to the norms in favour of generation renewal and succession. These interventions had mixed results but, overall, a far reaching policy is still missing;
  • national legislation prioritize ownership over other kinds of right on land;
  • Italian government is caliming to encourage the creation of new farms through the sale of public lands that either formally belong to the state or are collectively managed by Municipalities or Local Authorities (which represent a large part of the availability of UAA).

Management of public land in Italy

Public bodies with their land assets could be playing a key role in access to land, even more so, when coupled with criteria to access them which reward sustainability and local policies supporting new, young and small farmers.

The public land : an opportunity for small farmers

In Italy, the presence of publicly owned land, either directly or indirectly managed by the State (714.500 hectares of UAA, divided into more than 2.600 farms), represents an opportunity for small farmers. As public asset, public land should be managed to contribute to overall society benefit and grant the existence of sustainable multifunctional food farms which, in the private sector, are less likely to survive the market.

In addition to public land, over one million hectares fall under a common property regime (so called usi civici), which belongs to all citizens and are therefore inalienable. In these cases, Local Municipalities or association of citizens have the right to manage the land and to protect citizens’ collective rights.

However, over the past decades, a weakening capacity for governance of public administration bodies in providing services and in managing public land properties has been observed and the abandonment and negligence of public land properties management attracted the attention of civil society and social entrepreneurs.

The progression of the national legislation for new farm creation

The Italian government is now claiming to encourage the creation of new farms through the sale and rent of public lands that either formally belong to the state or that are collectively managed by Local Authorities (these represent a large part of the available land area).

These have been the main steps of the process:

  • In January 2012, the Italian government, led by Mr. Monti, ruled for a systematic sale of the state’s assets with the “Decreto sulle Liberalizzazioni” (Decree on Liberalization) in order to cover the increasing public debt.
  • Two years later, in July 2014, the decree “terre vive” opened up the opportunity to sale and lease 5.500 ha of public land, with priority given to farmers under 40 years of age. The land is locked into farmland for 20 years.
  • In July 2015, the first tranche of public land was up for sale, with a minimum of 20% reserved for lease (15 years contract). The sale will be through auction to the higher bidder – in the case of plot cheaper than 100.000€ the auction will be preceded by 45 days for private negotiations. In the sale the preemption right is reserved to the youth - in case of empty plots – and to the tenant for occupied plot.

However, there are many opposing the idea of selling land under public ownership to private farmers. Although the government is showing interest in implementing policies for farming renewal, which is good, many stakeholders do not agree on the positive impact of “terre vive”. Since access to credit is a major barrier for new entrants, the proposed sale through auction might well contribute to concentration of land by larger and well established farming businesses. Moreover, land on sale could be pray for Mafia which is lately showing more and more interest in farming and food processing.

There is also an interesting law in this regard (Law 109/96), stating the need to reallocate the tenure of goods (including land) confiscated from the mafia to society with social objectives in mind. A specific National Agency has been created to manage such goods and the procedure to be followed is specified in the “Codice Antimafia” (Anti-mafia Code). Many stakeholders wonder why not apply the same kind of “social benefit rule” to the use of public land.

Innovatives regional laws

Due to this situation, and partially in response to this nationwide decree, local authorities (regional and municipal institutions) have moved forward, and over the past year (2013, 2014) a few Italian regions (Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, Puglia and Molise) have approved regional laws in order to support the creation of local “Land Bank” or new governance systems, which allow for better management of publicly-owned land through a direct involvement of the social and private sectors. The proposed process is what, in general terms, can be defined as PPP, “Public Private Partnership”, where the public authorities own the property, but are no longer able to guarantee the management of these assets, and therefore call for private intervention. A useful tool, in this regard, is the selection criteria for the identification of the private subjects that will be in charge of the management of these properties.
Interesting is the case of Latium region, where a call for proposals has been issued over about 300 hectares by ARSIAL, the agency for rurale development of Latium Region. Among the criteria for assignment were the sustainability of the mode of production (at least, organic), the number of jobs created, the multifunctional activities planned for the community. Another crucial aspect of this case, is the provision of favorable credit for the new settlers, guaranteed by ARSIAL assets itself.

The Latium and Rome cases

Down here you can find more information on what has been going on in the management of public farmland assets in the Municipality of Rome and, more broadly, in the Latium region.

Latium Region

Publicly owned land still plays a major role at a regional level: data shows us how, still today, more than 25% of the regional agricultural surface (more than 220.000 hectares) is owned by public institutions, and this highlights the key role that states, and public authorities in general, play when it comes to opportunities for farmers to access to land. 86 public farms inside the Province of Rome own a similar percentage of land (25%).

Given the size of public land stock not suitable to be used for social purposes, the Region of Latium decided to advertise specific calls for proposals, with the aim of transferring the management of public land to private entities.

The Regional Administration published a call for proposals at the beginning of 2014. A total of 320 ha of publicly owned land would be assigned to young farmers in the provinces of Rome and Viterbo, with contracts that are renewable in 15 years. A budget of 500.000€ has been established, so as to support access to credit for the start up enterprises that will manage these public lands. The 320 ha are divided into 7 areas in 8 different municipalities, with a total of 288 ha in the Province of Rome and 32 ha in the Province of Viterbo.

Rome Municipality

Rome Municipality has a population of about 2.8 million people and represents the largest Italian municipality in term of surface area (1.285km2) and in term of agricultural area (5.729 ha in 2010).

The presence of large green spaces inside the city, including areas close to the city center, makes Rome a unique type of urban settlement in Europe. The city’s peri-urban historical heritage includes urban and archeological parks, natural protected areas and agricultural land. Professional farming is practiced in various suburban green areas, and many others have the potential for it. Looking at census data, an increase in the number of farms can be observed: from 1.893 farms in 2000 to 2.656 in 2010.

The total agricultural land area, in 2010, covered 54% of the total area of the Rome Municipality. In terms of land distribution, there is a different dynamic at a national and Municpal level: the number of small farms with a surface area of less than 2 ha is increasing, along with the number farms with a surface area of between 20 and 30 ha. The number of agricultural holdings of more than 100 ha in size decreased between 2000 and 2010.

The percentage of organic farms increased from the 2,3% to the 3,8% of the total. These trends are also due to the recent growing interest in diversification of agricultural activities and integration of production with services.
The call for proposal “Terre pubbliche ai giovani agricoltori”, published by the Municipality for the purpose of renting out around 100 ha of public lands in the summer of 2014, led to the creation of three new farms directly managed by young farmers.


Moreover, overall, notwithstanding the lively debate on organic and sustainable agriculture and the refusal of GMOs, national legislation in Italy have supported the capitalization and industrialization of agricultural production processes, thus encouraging capital-intensive, large-scale agroindustry.

At the same time, organic model is growing – Italy is the first country in Europe in percentage of organic farmland compared to total, organic consumption is increasing. Overall, there is a blooming interest in farming as a lifestyle and, among farmers there is a growing awareness of the importance of short chain supply, sustainable farming, local production, lively rural areas, multifunctional farming…

As it often happens in Italy, many of these values are mainly shared among civil society organization and critical consumers and didn’t reach yet the maturity to be endorsed in policies. However, at the level of local authorities, things are slowly changing.

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