The Ideology of the Land The Wheat Campaign, Inner Colonization, Agrarian Hydraulics and Afforestation in Twentieth-Century Portugal

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Manuel Villaverde Cabral


I will present the ideology and the actual practice of internal colonization (IC) in Portugal in relation to the Wheat Campaign and the general topic of land reform in historical perspective, with an emphasis on the twentieth century Portuguese dictatorship. IC has been a recurrent topic in Portuguese agrarian history at least since the country’s devastation by the Black Plague in the fourteenth century. It has been systematically linked from the eighteenth century onwards to the alleged demographic imbalance between the north and south of the country. Subsequently, because of Portugal’s climatic constraints, IC became associated with the question of irrigation and the issue of land ownership. The latter seems to be, I argue, the main reason why irrigation and land partition, and therefore IC, ultimately had so little impact on Portuguese agrarian structure. Following the Wheat Campaign (from 1929 onwards), which appealed to the ideology of autarky, a Junta (authority) for internal colonization was established in 1936 at the peak of Salazar’s dictatorship in order to promote the creation of small family farms in the south. These farms aimed at providing the seasonal manpower required by wheat production to make that Portuguese bread that the country could not afford buying abroad. Therefore, a regional problem of major landowners and farmers was turned into a national issue with strong political overtones. A very few number of colonies of family farms were eventually created, and the Junta’s most important achievement was the 1940 publication a vast three-volume survey of the commons (baldios) in 1940, as international emigration was coming to a virtual stop (during the 1930s and 1940s). One provisional way to conclude the argument is to suggest that the ideology of IC tells us much more about the country than the failed practical attempts – however politically understandable – to change Portugal’s agriculture, population distribution, and national food imbalances. Comparative work on Italy and Spain will undoubtedly help to better understand the Portuguese case.

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Manuel Villaverde Cabral, Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa

Manuel Villaverde Cabral (b.1940) is currently an Emeritus Researcher at the ICS–Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon. Licencié-ès-Lettres (1968) and Docteur en Histoire (Sorbonne, Paris, 1979), he was a Research Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford (1976–79) and held the chair of Portuguese History at King’s College, London (1992–95); he also visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison (fall 1986), the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris (spring 1990), and the Instituto IUPERJ Universitário de Pesquisas do Rio de Janeiro (spring 2003). Manuel Villaverde Cabral has published extensively on contemporary Portuguese history and society, and he is a regular contributor to the mainstream media.