The main economic goals of an agrarian reform, which are closely interrelated, are production expansion and the consequent increase of income in individual small farms and of the national income as a whole. In this way, poverty and social phenomena such as excessive rural exodus and its consequences can be combated. Ultimately, all of this conditions the development of a region.

The first part of this study demonstrates how, from a theoretical point of view, these objectives can be reached through an agrarian reform. Yet, it is understood that the land redistribution has less to do with a distribution of income but rather with a redistribution of possibilities to obtain an increased income in the future. Hence, the intention is to achieve a more equitable distribution of the expanded national income through allocative effects. This means in the first place the application in small properties of an additional number of production factors (especially soil and labor force) previously unused. According to the economic theory, small farms in countries considered economically underdeveloped generally use land more efficiently than the bigger ones. Therefore, we refer to the transformation from large land holdings into smaller family farms through an agrarian reform as a more effective allocation of the existing production factors.

These static effects are complemented in the long term by dynamic ones, such as the increase of saving and investment quotas.

To sum up, it can be said that an agrarian reform would lead to an expansion of agricultural production as well as a rise in national income. Moreover, due to a restructuring into small businesses, a more equitable income distribution can be expected. Finally, an agrarian reform could bring relief to the overloaded rural and urban labor market through the absorption of work force previously unused.

The second part presents, first, the adverse climatic and geographic conditions for the agriculture existing in Ceará and then stresses the importance of finding irrigation methods. Next, the study demonstrates that rural poverty in this region of Brazil is in great part due to the extremely concentrated agrarian structure. This means that there are a great number of small agricultural properties which are confined to an insufficient area of land, leading to the logical consequence that an agrarian reform could be an effective means to combat rural poverty in Ceará.

After centuries of concentrated land possession, the project of the agrarian reform at a national and state level was initiated only about fifteen years ago. However, it was not until recent years that it gained force.

In terms of extension, among the different models of agrarian reforms undertaken in Ceará until september 1999, the old compulsory-purchase scheme conducted by the INCRA is the most significant. Still, the innovative decentralized and market-oriented project called "Reforma Agrária Solidária" could gain more importance in the future as well. This program was created in 1996 in Ceará and later executed as a pilot project in the Brazilian North-East (Cédula da Terra). At the present time, the federal government, with financial support of the World Bank and in cooperation with the federal states, is extending this model to the whole country in the "Banco da Terra" program.

The measures taken so far are not nearly sufficient: only 9% of the land qualified by the INCRA as unproductively used has been redistributed. The total number of landless families in Ceará is estimated by the IDACE at 200,000, and 313,500 by the MST. A scarce 10% has been included in the programs of the agrarian reform up to this point.

The third part of this study analyzes the effects of the agrarian reform on the income of the families involved. The results, however, do not show a very positive picture of the development in Ceará. Six different studies on a total of seventeen assentamentos (settlements) from the different programs of the agrarian reform (the project conducted by the INCRA, the "Reforma Agrária Solidária" and the model previously led by the state government) are discussed here.

We may expect an increase in production – and consequently in the income of the settled families –, as demonstrated theoretically in the first part of the paper. Therefore, one of the objectives of the agrarian reform – namely to combat poverty – would have been achieved at least to a certain extent. Nevertheless, the living conditions of most of the families can still be considered ranging close to poverty. While the average monthly family income in the analyzed assentamentos amounts to 1.37 salários mínimos (minimum wages), the cost for a cesta básica (basket of basic goods) is more than two salários mínimos. Moreover, low income levels do not provide reasons to expect the accomplishment of another objective: the sustainable and autonomous growth, i.e. the emancipation of the settlements.

These moderate results in the single assentamentos and the still rather small extent of the different agrarian reform programs in Ceará are making a noticeable progress in fulfilling the total economic objectives unlikely as well. These estimates are confirmed through the decline of the agricultural social products in the past years and through the fact that no improvement in the income distribution in rural Ceará has been achieved in the past years.

The main causes for these moderate results in many settlements can be found firstly in the extremely small size of the alloted land parcels. These frequently do not even correspond to the minimum size determined by the INCRA as necessary for economically productive land units.

Secondly, inaccessibility of complementary measures as seen in the observed examples produces a very negative impact. This includes, for example, the delayed allocation of credits needed for investments and means of production as well as the lack of technical advice and support for the assentados. Often the families are left on their own with the land parcel given to them.

The poor results in Ceará however, should not be considered a valid argument against an agrarian reform in general. On the contrary, some examples of other Brazilian regions analyzed in other studies, as well as the one of the assentamento "Santana" investigated here, show that with sufficient support a successful development in the assentamentos can definitely be achieved.

The visible progress in land redistribution in the last couple of years leaves a certain margin of hope. Assuming that the course followed so far will be continued even more actively in the future, there is a chance to effectively overcome the century-long problem of landholding concentration and rural poverty in Brazil

Meanwhile, for that to happen in an economic and socially productive way, it is necessary to achieve significant improvement, especially in the implementation of measures supporting the assentados.

Only thus will it be possible to refute the critics who, not without reasons, deny the character of a real agrarian reform in the official programs currently executed and who still uphold the notion of a "não reforma agrária" (non agrarian reform).

(Translation: Andrea Laznik)