Solon L. Barraclough: Leading Agrarian Reform Researcher and Advocate


Solon Barraclough was a socially concerned scholar, consultant, policy advisor, administrator and, above all, public intellectual who had his feet firmly on the ground. He had a great ability to focus on key development issues in his own work as well as set up first class research teams to investigate those issues, inspire their work and marshal the required material resources to undertake these enterprises. While he was not one of the most prolific writers his publications are distinguished by their relevance, clarity, poignancy and deep commitment to improving the livelihoods of the poor, the excluded and the voiceless. He belonged to the generation of outstanding researchers on peasant and agrarian issues such as Rafael Baraona, Thomas Carroll, Jacques Chonchol, Peter Dorner, Orlando Fals-Borda, Ernst Feder, Antonio García, Cynthia Hewitt de Alcántara, Gerrit Huizer, Erich Jacoby, Andrew Pearse, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, William Thiesenhusen, Doreen Warriner and Marshall Wolfe. His rich life-experience led him to the conviction that rural development is basically a problem of the distribution of power and the mobilization of social forces to bring about the necessary changes for a peasant-based development strategy.

Barraclough was born in Beverly, Massachussetts, in 1922 and was brought up in a family-farm environment in New Hampshire, USA. Largely because of World War II, during which he did military service in the Philippines and later in occupied Japan, he became interested in development issues and decided to study economics ‘to find out how things really were’. He went to Harvard University from 1946 to 1949 where he was taught by Joseph Schumpeter and Wassily Leontief and received his MA and PhD in economics. For his doctorate he studied under John D. Black and John Kenneth Galbraith. At Harvard he read a book by Joan Robinson, a distinguished economist at Cambridge University, in which ‘she said that the main reason for studying economics is not to be taken in by the economists’ (Barraclough, 1975: 22); Barraclough himself felt that economists were no better at providing solutions to problems than any other ‘scientists’.

His first work in the area of rural development was in the USA as an economist in the US Forest Service. He then got a job as an Associate Forester in charge of farm forestry aspects of a rural development project, and became co-manager of a large cotton, livestock and forest estate which had been donated to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and had become part of its Agricultural Experiment Station. The estate was largely worked by black sharecroppers and wage workers. Barraclough was appalled by the poor living conditions of the sharecroppers and developed various initiatives to improve their welfare. This brought him into conflict with the local authorities, especially with the neighbouring white farmers and the White Citizens Council of Fayette County, who complained that he had raised forestry wages, shortened the work day, introduced incentive payments and similar innovations, as well as addressing ‘Negroes as Mr. and Mrs.’ (Barraclough, 1965: 108). This is a facet of Barraclough's life which is not commonly known but which in my view is crucial for understanding his commitment to the plight of the landless and poor peasants in the developing world.

As Barraclough (1975: 31) recounts: ‘I was brought up in the Calvinist tradition. My grandmother who taught me that tradition said, “Boy, you can't change anything but the worst sin is not to try”’. This inspired Barraclough to action, seeking to improve the livelihoods of the poor. He spent a lifetime working on rural development, be it with poor landless blacks from the mud of the Mississippi basin or wretched rural labourers in the South, principally in Latin America, where he lived and worked from 1959 to 1977 on research and training projects connected with agrarian reform and peasant livelihoods. He continued to travel to the region thereafter on consultancy assignments from his base in Geneva.

During most of his time in Latin America he was based in Chile, from where he travelled to several other countries in the region. His arrival in Chile proved to be a turning point in his life. He was employed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which has its Latin American regional office in Santiago. He worked first as Land Economics Expert for Chile from 1959 to1961, then as Regional Officer for Land Tenure and Agrarian Policy in Latin America, and subsequently as Project Manager of the Chilean Agrarian Reform Training and Research Institute (ICIRA) from 1964 to 1973.

The military coup d'état in Chile, on 11 September 1973, brought an end to his work there. Although he belonged to the UN system and thus had diplomatic immunity, he had become too involved with the agrarian reform in Chile and thus had become a hate figure for landlords, right-wing politicians and the military. Even after leaving Chile, in rather tragic circumstances, he remained deeply attached to its people and concerned about their fate and well-being. After a brief interlude as consultant for the FAO in Rome, Jamaica and Geneva, in 1974 he became an FAO/United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project manager of the National Agrarian Training and Research Programme in Mexico, which he helped to set up. He was then appointed Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) in 1977, a position he held until his retirement in 1984. He continued to live near Geneva until he died in 2002. For much of his life he was associated with Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, first as Professor of Agricultural Economics from 1963 to 1964 and thereafter as Adjunct Professor until 1983.

First Impressions

I retain a vivid image of my first encounters with Solon Barraclough back in my student days in Chile in the mid-1960s. During one of his seminars he talked about values, beliefs and objectivity in social sciences instead of the usual models of economic growth and agricultural development. He turned to his bookshelf and took out a very fat book: the title of the book was An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy by Gunnar Myrdal. It was one of the first books Myrdal had written, published in 1944, long before his well-known writings on the developing world. Solon Barraclough turned to the back pages of the book, in which Myrdal wrote about valuations, beliefs, facts and ‘hidden’ biases in social sciences as well as presenting his own biases on the topic. I think that Myrdal's approach to social sciences greatly influenced Barraclough as he was acutely aware that the conclusions reached in social science analysis are not independent from value judgement and biases.

Latin America's Agrarian Structure

The first major assignment which brought Barraclough to wider prominence was as head of the Land Tenure Project of the Inter-American Committee for Agricultural Development (known by its Spanish acronym CIDA —Comité Interamericano de Desarrollo Agrícola). CIDA was a collaborative venture between five international organizations: the Organization of America States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences, known today as the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA), the FAO, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). CIDA was set up following a resolution by the Punta del Este Conference of 1961, at which Barraclough was rapporteur for the commission drafting the declaration on agrarian reform. This conference also launched the Alliance for Progress which was a development aid and co-operation programme largely driven by the newly elected administration of J. F. Kennedy in the USA, so as to regain the initiative in hemispheric relations after the Cuban revolution of 1959. The presence of and speech by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, as representative of the Cuban revolutionary government, attracted much attention at the meeting.

The CIDA research teams, under the general direction of Barraclough, produced a number of lengthy reports on land tenure, which were referred to collectively as the CIDA studies. Reports were published on Argentina (1965), Brazil (1966), Colombia (1966), Chile (1966), Ecuador (1965), Guatemala (1965) and Peru (1966), followed later by reports on El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela. The CIDA reports of Bolivia and Venezuela were never published, in the latter case because of political opposition. While the reports of Chile and Mexico were published in book form, the remainder only appeared in a limited offset edition as opposition to their wider circulation developed within the OAS and the US State Department in Washington DC, in response to pressure from the international lobby of Latin American landlords. Nevertheless the CIDA studies had a major influence on shaping a certain view of the Latin American agrarian question as well as on the design of agrarian reform policies. They revealed the full depth of the peasantry's tragedy as well as the highly unequal and bimodal land tenure system in Latin America. The CIDA studies were used by peasant organizations, activists, progressive politicians and reformist governments to lend scientific weight to the case for agrarian reform legislation.

The CIDA studies still remain the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of the agrarian structure in Latin America and have proven to be a milestone in rural studies in the region. The article by Barraclough and Domike (1966)— a comparative analysis of the seven country studies on land tenure and development — was a path-breaking and seminal article which had a major influence on subsequent agrarian studies of the region. Barraclough later edited a book (1973) on the basis of the various CIDA country reports which provides a wealth of information. It shows that Latin America had one of the most unequal agrarian structures in the world. At one extreme were the minifundistas or small subsistence peasant farmers and, at the other extreme were the latifundistas or landlords who owned large landed estates. By 1960 the latifundios constituted roughly 5 per cent of farm units, controlling about four-fifths of the land, while the minifundios comprised four-fifths of farm units but held only 5 per cent of the land (Barraclough, 1973: 16). The middle-sized farm sector was relatively insignificant.1

The CIDA studies — and Barraclough — argued that this agrarian system was inefficient and unjust. On the one hand, latifundios underutilized land by farming it in an extensive manner and leaving a significant proportion uncultivated. On the other hand, minifundios were wasteful of labour, using too much labour on too little land. Not surprisingly, while labour productivity was much higher on latifundios than on minifundios, the reverse was the case regarding land productivity. Average production per agricultural worker was about five to ten times higher on latifundios than on minifundios, while production per hectare of agricultural land was roughly three to five times higher on minifundios relative to latifundios (ibid.: 25–27). This undisputable evidence was the main economic argument put forward in favour of land redistribution as it proved that this latifundia–minifundia land tenure system was a major obstacle to development. The argument was further strengthened with data on the extremely poor living conditions of the majority of the rural population and the social and political instability that this poverty and social marginalization created.

From the ‘Flower Pot’ Agrarian Reform to the Social Revolution in Chile

In Chile Barraclough experienced three very different administrations: the conservative government of Jorge Alessandri (1958–64); the centrist Christian Democrat government of Eduardo Frei (1964–70); and finally the socialist government of Salvador Allende (1970–73). These three governments implemented agrarian reforms which escalated from a few expropriations during Alessandri's ‘flower pot’ land reform to the expropriation of all large (and even some medium-sized) landed estates, regardless of their degree of efficiency, during the Allende years. ICIRA was created, with FAO and UNDP co-operation, during the Alessandri administration; Barraclough became its international director in early 1964. By 1972, over half of the country's agricultural land had been expropriated, mostly during Allende's government. Barraclough became increasingly involved in this process and to some extent even shaped it from his position as an international civil servant. During this period Chile was living through major social changes culminating in Allende's social revolution and Pinochet's counter-revolution.

Chile's landlords were enraged by the changes brought about by the land reform, even the relatively limited reforms of the Alessandri government. It is no surprise, then, that they wholeheartedly welcomed the military coup and conspired in the overthrow of Allende's government. The following comment by Barraclough (1968: 11) is revealing of the changes happening in Chile at the time and help explain the radicalization of the peasant movement: ‘In Chile, where a few traditional landlords have recently lost their lands through an extremely modest effort at agrarian reform, do you know what many of them resent the most and would be willing to go to almost any lengths to rectify? It is not the loss of wealth or even land, but that the “campesinos” are no longer humble and deferential’.2

ICIRA, with its high-powered international and Chilean staff, trained hundreds of peasant leaders of the reformed sector (the expropriated farms), so as to improve their administrative capacity to run the newly expropriated estates, as well as training hundreds of civil servants engaged with the agrarian reform process. Furthermore, thousands of technicians and campesinos had attended short technical courses. ICIRA staff also supported peasant organizations and helped to promote more campesino participation in agricultural planning at local and national levels. ICIRA experts gave technical assistance in formulating agricultural policies and programmes to the Ministry of Agriculture and the various government agencies dealing with rural matters. Some of the best research on agrarian and rural matters in Chile was undertaken by ICIRA staff and ICIRA's library comprised one of the best collections on agrarian problems in Latin America. Many first rate books and brochures were published including several by Barraclough.

With the military coup, almost all the ICIRA staff had to go into hiding, seek asylum in foreign embassies and go into exile, in some cases for the second time in their lives. The ICIRA offices and the private houses of most ICIRA personnel were raided, including Barraclough's, and in many cases their books and papers were destroyed or confiscated. Barraclough was at a conference in Israel presenting a paper on the day of the coup. He was strongly advised by the FAO headquarters in Rome not to return to Chile as he had become persona non grata. ICIRA's publication programme was accused of fomenting political subversion and several tons of teaching materials were destroyed. In the months before Allende's overthrow the campaign by the political opposition against ICIRA had intensified; ICIRA was denounced as a centre of Marxist subversion, accused of using its printing press to publish documents against the armed forces, of using UN vehicles for political agitation and of helping illegal armed subversive groups. These accusations were without any real basis but were part of the general campaign against Allende's government and its agrarian reform programme.

During Allende's government the US administration adopted an increasingly hostile attitude with the result that US citizens were viewed suspiciously by many Chileans. But progressive Chileans made an exception for Barraclough, as they knew that he was on the side of the common people: in a way he was adopted as an honorary Chilean (despite retaining a strong American accent in his Spanish). Barraclough condemned the US involvement in the overthrow of Chile. He thought that the US government could not separate the real from the rhetoric. ‘Shortly before the coup a US diplomat in Santiago expressed his frustration well when I suggested that the growing US pressures on Allende could be harmful to long-term US interests by encouraging a coup and destroying democracy in Chile. His reply was that only “do-gooders” worry about democracy to the exclusion of other US interests such as protection of US property and military cooperation’ (Barraclough, 1983: 29).

Many years after the coup, in reply to questions as to why the Allende government did not pay more attention to women's participation and rights in the land reform process, Barraclough (1994a: 424) recounts that it was not for lack of trying: ‘I accompanied a high Allende government agrarian official to meetings with land reform beneficiaries and listened to him try to convince the peasants to allow women to be full co-operative members. Their reply was invariably something like this: “We always have voted for Don Salvador (Allende), but if he insists that our wives and daughters neglect their household tasks and children to help run our co-operative, he shouldn't count on us in the future”’.

The UNRISD Years

It seems likely that Barraclough was attracted to Geneva by the possibility of influencing developments in favour of the poor, by locating himself at one of the centres of the UN system. During his directorship of UNRISD from 1977 to 1984, he was an inspirational force to an array of international scholars and development practitioners. Barraclough was a good judge of a researcher's ability, had a special flair for forming research teams and was able to attract the best talent for his projects. He earned respect and trust for his fairness and firm principles and for encouraging people to develop their talents. His main research focus shifted to a variety of new issues which can generally be encompassed under the broad theme of sustainable development.

After his ‘retirement’ he continued his links with UNRISD as Senior Consultant, retaining an office in the Palais de Nations building. He also undertook consultancies for a variety of institutions such as the South Commission, IFAD, IIED, ILO, Oxfam, TNI and WWF. As an internationalist Barraclough was a great believer in the United Nations system as a vehicle for achieving a more equitable and humane world. But he was aware of its limitations and thus suggested reforms. He often referred to Richard H. Tawney's (1932) book Land and Labour in China, which the ILO and the old League of Nations in Geneva had sponsored, as an outstanding analysis of agrarian problems and as indicating an early concern for social matters by the forerunner of the UN.

At the beginning of his tenure in UNRISD, Barraclough commissioned Andrew Pearse, a former colleague of ICIRA, to write a book on the green revolution (Pearse, 1980). This drew on the various studies of a multidisciplinary team on the social and economic impact of the green revolution in Africa, Asia and Latin America which UNRISD had undertaken during the first half of the 1970s under the leadership of Pearse. This remains one of the most insightful books to have been written on the green revolution and it clearly influenced Barraclough's view on it. According to Barraclough the impact of the green revolution was shaped not by the technology itself but by the social and political structure within which it was introduced.

One of Barraclough's first major achievements at UNRISD was the launching of the popular participation research programme which Andrew Pearse had proposed and helped to set up as co-director in the late 1970s. Over twenty research reports were published by UNRISD on this key topic during the 1980s — well before any World Summit or World Social Forum began to focus on social participation and other social issues. While some of the researchers on this project were well-established figures, most were at the beginning of their career and have subsequently become major figures in their own right. This to some extent reflects Barraclough's ability to spot and foster young talent; he was particularly keen to promote researchers and activists from the Third World.3

Following his social concerns Barraclough launched the Food Systems and Society project in UNRISD, which focused particularly on the issue of food security. His sympathy for the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua in 1979 led him to write a report on the food system in Nicaragua (Barraclough, 1982). He later widened his canvas to Central America, reaching the conclusion that the region's historical pattern of economic growth based on a few agricultural commodity exports had led to economic and social polarization in the region, to high levels of food dependence from the USA and to food insecurity (Barraclough and Marchetti, 1985). For Barraclough (1996) food security and secure access to land by the rural poor are intimately linked. Thus, to achieve food security it is necessary to mobilize the rural masses so as to undertake major land redistribution, enhance production for the national market and prevent any attempts at destabilization of the governments who implement such profound transformations. However, based on his experience of Chile and Nicaragua, Barraclough was acutely aware of the dilemmas which policy makers face and which usually restrict their room for action as many events are beyond governmental control. He highlights the complexities faced during a process of profound agrarian transformation by presenting several basic policy dilemmas such as those of participation, accumulation, equity and globalization.

Subsequently, as many countries in the region were torn by war and violence, especially El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, he co-authored a book analysing food security issues within the context of a development pattern which is exclusionary and leading to impoverishment (Barraclough and Scott, 1987). In this study the authors also referred to the US government's involvement in the counter-insurgency and the tremendous economic loss and human suffering which resulted from this intervention. They advocated a new approach for US policy in Central America which called for respect for a country's right to popular-based national development.

The concern of Barraclough with food security culminated with his book An End to Hunger? The Social Origins of Food Strategies (1991). The subtitle is very revealing as it shows the influence of Barrington Moore (1966) on his work and emphasizes his search for the social context of the agrarian question. In this book, Barraclough stresses the determinant role of socio-economic structures and the systemic nature of food insecurity. In contrast with the neoclassical belief that trade and market liberalization will automatically induce growth, alleviate poverty and lead to food security, he argues that the opposite is often the case. He exposes the double standards of US trade policy by highlighting the strongly regulated and controlled agricultural markets in the USA. He maps the livelihood crisis confronting rural populations in the South due to the accelerating dissolution of self-provisioning peasant agriculture and the lack of employment opportunities. He finds the social origins of food strategies in the distinctive historical class formations and alliances of each country which determine the nature of their state and public policy, which is also shaped by external forces. Providing the rural poor with access to resources — particularly land — is a key factor for reducing food insecurity. To achieve this, he emphasizes ‘peasant-based’ or ‘popular-based’ national development strategies. But the elimination of hunger and poverty would also require ‘massive resource transfers from North to South, perhaps similar to the Marshall Plan for rebuilding war-torn Europe’ (Barraclough, 1991: 234). Given this proposal and his general commitment to economic security and social justice it is no wonder that Barraclough has been described as a 1930s Rooseveltian Democrat.

In this book, Barraclough develops further his earlier analysis of policy dilemmas and adds, most interestingly, some pseudo-dilemmas of institutional change. For example, regarding private versus public property he argues that the debate is simplistic and hides deeper underlying issues since ‘property rights are much too complex bundles of social relationships to be neatly classified as public and private’ (ibid.: 256). On market forces versus central planning he argues that the debates are often equally arcane and irrelevant, posing a false dilemma. In his view ‘there will always be state intervention in markets. The issue is how to devise economic policies and interventions to direct market forces towards social goals … The issue is never one of intervention versus non-intervention, but what kind of interventions and how much’ (ibid.: 258). The capitalism versus socialism debate also poses a false dilemma. His closing sentences in the book, which were written just before the collapse of the communist system in Eastern Europe, deserve to be quoted for their foresight: ‘Future historians may lump together present day capitalist and socialist systems as interesting minor variants of the same mode of production anyhow. For society to have a better future there will have to be modifications in the international system as well as in national ones. How to resolve these issues poses the real dilemmas’ (ibid.: 259).

On Method, Theory, Practice and Values

In his writings Barraclough eschewed grand theories which at times he found esoteric, tautological or not helpful for the immediate task at hand — a problem which needed to be resolved. He favoured the use of case studies and concrete examples for his analysis, which he often garnered from his own field trips. He felt that sweeping generalizations obscure more than they explain and that it was possible to select data that would support any broad social theory or model. He was most critical of authors who selected the evidence to support their convictions. Hence he argued that one has to avoid building the conclusions into one's premises. Instead of grand theories he was more interested in understanding how development affected ordinary people in different real life situations.

Barraclough disliked simplistic class analysis and the rather sterile debate concerning modes of production which so captivated many Marxist scholars in the 1960s and 1970s. To the questions of whether collective farms are better than private farms or whether big farms are better than small farms, he answered that it all depends on the time, the place, the situation and the criteria. As for comparative analyses, Barraclough reasoned that generalizations across countries and regions tend to be misleading. He argued for a pragmatic and nuanced approach to policy and institutional reforms. In his view policy makers should critically analyse proposed policies in specific contexts. Furthermore, there should be no dogmatic presupposition about the benefits and disadvantages associated with particular ideological labels. Consequently, Barraclough's approach to the analysis of social and development problems was evidence-based, pragmatic, non-ideological, unprejudiced and historical as well as context and time specific. That said, he did not shy away, later in life, from making some sweeping generalizations such as: ‘Socialist revolutions in the twentieth century … while they were anti-capitalist, anti-establishment movements, they historically have served to speed up the incorporation of these populations into the world capitalist system and perhaps on slightly better terms, they were incorporated otherwise, in some cases not, in many cases, yes’ (Barraclough, 2002).

Barraclough was far from being an ivory tower intellectual as he continually sought to influence public policy. He maintained that social researchers had an obligation to use their position to try to influence social outcomes to the advantage of those who were being excluded. He would cite approvingly the writings of Robert L. Heilbroner, Eric J. Hobsbawm, Karl Mannheim, Barrington Moore (Jr.), Gunnar Myrdal, Karl Polanyi, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Richard H. Tawney and Max Weber, among several others. These reflect some of the intellectual influences over him.

While Barraclough's pragmatism, empiricism, suspicion of grand theories and dislike for academic jargon had many virtues it also had some drawbacks, as it limited his theoretical contribution. There is no particular concept or theory that, in my view, one can attribute to Barraclough. In this sense his legacy is very different to that of André Gunder Frank or Celso Furtado, for example. His legacy has more in common with that of Raúl Prebisch; both had an ability to focus on key development issues and form high calibre research teams to investigate them; both were activists within the UN system and believed that the UN could be a force for good by bringing about reforms nationally and internationally which would improve the human condition. Barraclough, like Furtado, Frank and Prebisch, was a fierce critic of neoclassical thinking and neoliberal policies as he could see their negative consequences on people's lives.

His criticism of a book which has become a classic in agrarian studies is very revealing. Alain de Janvry's (1981)The Agrarian Question and Reformism in Latin America has been reprinted many times and is probably the most cited book on Latin American agrarian issues. It is perceived as being representative of a dependency and Marxist perspective, but Barraclough felt it did not do justice to Marx and Lenin or to Chayanov, who is often seen in opposition to them. In Barraclough's (1984: 642) view: ‘Lenin or Chayanov and the like may have written in the search of abstract truth, but also they were writing in relation to very concrete policy issues they hoped to influence in a particular time and place. They might have emphasized quite different issues if they were writing on Latin America today.’ Furthermore, ‘One wonders what useful purpose is served by talking about “junker” and “farmer” roads in Latin America when neither category really has anything to do with the region. A few genuine “junkers” did emigrate to Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, etc. and there are a few farmers in the region in the English or North American sense. The Latin American social reality, however, is very different and has little to do with either’ (ibid.: 643). I, for one, beg to differ, having extensively used those categories myself for the analysis of the historical development of the Latin American agrarian system.

It is important to clarify that Barraclough was not against theory in principle, but against a theory that provides the answers before one begins the inquiry. He also did not approve of the careless use of data, stressing that data must be used with great caution. In a telling sentence Barraclough (1984: 649) wrote that: ‘de Janvry's analysis is surprisingly similar to the neoclassical one he criticizes’ and that his conclusions, like those of the neoclassical approach ‘seem to be dictated more by their premises than by the realities they try to explain’. Certainly nobody would dispute today that de Janvry's prolific output falls within a largely neo-institutional, if not neoclassical, tradition.


Barraclough's analysis and advocacy of agrarian reform remained the main thread through his life, from his first experience of the injustices of the estate system in the Mississippi Delta in the mid-1950s, through his long stay in Latin America, where it was central to his activities, and during his UNRISD period, when his studies on food systems, food security, the environment and sustainable rural development continued to be centrally linked to the land distribution problem.4 Although he supported the rights of women and indigenous peoples he did not tackle these issues in his writings.

Until the last years of his live he continued to explore new dimensions of the land reform, such as the role of social actors and the state (Barraclough, 2001). He viewed the central problem of rural development, poverty eradication and social justice as stemming from the peasantry's lack of access to resources and to land in particular, for which agrarian reform was just the first step toward the emancipation of the peasantry and rural workers. For Barraclough, land reform had become an issue of basic human rights which continued to be relevant in today's age of globalization, especially as in many countries of the South the land and livelihood problems had become even more acute. Although the World Bank recognized this problem and had put land reform back on its agenda, Barraclough (1999: 38) was critical of the neoliberal land policies:

There was no evidence … that effective land reforms could result from ‘market friendly’ policies alone. Registering land titles and facilitating real estate transactions between willing sellers and willing buyers do not by themselves change power relationships in favour of the rural poor. In many situations, such policies are likely to reinforce agrarian structures by providing large landholders and speculators with additional legal protection, while leaving the bargaining power of the poor unchanged or diminished.

Aware of the difficulty of pursuing land reform in the context of neoliberal policies, he concluded that ‘prospects for land reform look bleak, but they always do until the process gets underway’ (Barraclough, 1994b: 21).

At the initiative of Ann Zammit, a colleague and friend of Barraclough, I became involved in helping to select and arrange the transfer of some of Barraclough's books, grey materials and papers to Chile. Ann Zammit, with the support and financial contribution of several old friends of Barraclough, then arranged the shipment to Chile's national library. Thus in a way Barraclough returned to Chile, where he had spent probably the most important years of his life and where he will remain in the hearts and minds of many Chileans, especially the campesinos. But his legacy has no frontiers and will endure in the lives of all those who benefited from his grandmother's advice, as through his work he certainly enriched the lives of many throughout the world.


  • 1

    Subsequent studies have shown this bimodal characterization to be over-exaggerated as tenants had a significant degree of control over resources within the estates and medium farmers had access to better quality land and were more capitalized. Nevertheless, and despite this evidence of greater heterogeneity, Latin America still had one of the most polarized agrarian systems in the world.

  • 2

    The term campesinos is often translated as peasants but in Latin America, in contrast to England or the USA, besides small farmers it also includes tenants, farm workers, indigenous community members and rural labourers in general.

  • 3

    Due to his untimely death in 1980 Pearse was not involved in the main study to emerge from this major project; this was authored jointly by Matthias Stiefel, who collaborated closely with Pearse as co-director of the project and subsequently director, and Marshall Wolfe, whom Barraclough had met in Santiago in the 1960s when Wolfe was working for ECLAC doing some pioneering work on social policy (Stiefel and Wolfe, 1984).

  • 4

    For some of his writings on the environment, see, for example, Barraclough (1995); Barraclough and Ghimire (1995). For his work on sustainable rural development, see Barraclough (2000, 2005); Barraclough et al. (1997) among others.

Cristóbal Kay was a lecturer in the University of Chile and the University of Glasgow as well as Visiting Professor at the Catholic University of Peru. He is currently Associate Professor in Development Studies and Rural Development at the Institute of Social Studies, PO Box 29776, 2502 LT The Hague, The Netherlands (e-mail: and Honorary Research Fellow in Geography and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham, UK. He has done research on agrarian reform and rural development in Latin America and is currently engaged in a study on rural poverty. He is the co-editor of Land, Poverty and Livelihoods in an Era of Globalization (Routledge, forthcoming 2007).