Tenant farmers’ rights are extremely secure in France, as a result of regulations adopted in the 1940s, modifying the old Napoleonic code. These regulations aimed at modernising French agriculture, by shifting the balance in favour of tenant farmers vs. landowners. They give tenant farmers the conditions needed for developing and benefiting from their farmwork: time, foreseeability, limited cost of land, return on investment.
This security of tenure is all the more important as, far from the myth of small farmers cultivating their own land, about 80% of French farmland is tenanted.
This statute encompasses a serie of regulations, including:
– Long-term leases: the minimum lease duration is 9-year old. Other leases are 18, 25 or career-long. Unless one of the party requests it, it is automatically renewed. The tenant farmers therefore have time to invest, experiment and reap the benefits of their work.
– Rent prices are state-controlled, so that the ground rent first and foremost benefits to the farmer: in each county, a price range is set, in reference with the value of agricultural output per hectare. The current rent average is about 140€/ hectare, i.e. much lower than in all neighbouring countries.
– Reconising the value of improvements: if the tenant farmers improve the land through their work and by investing (e.g. hedges), they receive a compensation from the landowners when they leave.
– Preemption right: the tenant farmer has a pre-emption right when the land is put for sale.
– Lease transferability within the family: after the farmer’s death, the spouse, children or parents who participated in farmwork can claim to take over the lease
– Written and oral leases are both valid, and must equally comply with the tenant farming statute. Dispute resolution takes place in ad hoc rural lease courts, composed on par of land owners and tenant farmers.
The coherence and efficiency of these regulations largely result from the specific historical context. They were adopted at a time, the end of World War II, when many other progressive regulations were adopted to protect the rights of the "have nots". They were also adopted and implemented at a time when increasing food production and supporting agriculture were a national priority. Besides, farmers union were strong and considered as key partners for modernising and managing French agriculture.
Michel Merlet, The tenant farming statute in France: a successful experience in making farm producers’ land use rights secure, 2008 (also available in Spanish)