Large estate, from Latin latifundium, is a rustic farm of large dimensions. It is a large agricultural exploitation which, in general, does not use all of its resources efficiently. The person that has one or more large estates is known as landowner.
For instance: “The governor has assured that he will fight the large estates since he wants the land to be distributed among many neighbors”, “This Italian magnate has several large estates in the south of the country”, “Serious complaint against the main large estate in the region: it is accused of polluting the environment”, “If Don Fabián’s field continues to grow, it will soon be a large estate”.
The criteria to define what is a latifundio can vary. There is no fixed number of hectares that convert a countryside in a large estate, but depends on the region and the practices associated with agricultural exploitation.
On Europe, a large estate may have a few hundred hectares. This area, on the other hand, will not be considered as a large estate in Latin America, where farms tend to be much larger. Latin American latifundios, therefore, tend to exceed 10,000 hectares in size. When the holdings are smaller, they are known as smallholdings.
It is possible to say that a large estate is an agrarian property of great extension, but it is necessary to point out that the concepts of exploitation and ownership do not always go hand in hand: while an exploitation may consist of various properties of different owners (either by cooperative, leasing or other kind of association or assignment), a property can consist of many plots or farms, and also be exploited by different entrepreneurs, both directly (the owner himself does it, hiring the necessary labor, depending on the size of the property) and indirectly (through tenants).
Regarding the economic and social characteristics that turn an agrarian farm into a large estate, we can mention the workforce that is maintained in precarious conditions, the little investment in technology, low unit yields and land use well below the level of maximum exploitation.
For all this, latifundismo is considered one of the causes of instability Social, except for newly developed areas, where labor is scarcer. Some of the methods that have been implemented to try to find a solution to the inconveniences caused by the latifundio, are the agrarian reform (the modification of the property structure, including expropriations) until the implantation of market agriculture, modernizing the exploitation.
The causes of the formation of the latifundio are historical, and coincide with colonizations and military conquests (such as the invasions Germanic, the creation of the Old Roman Empire, the colonization of the American continent by the Europeans and the Spanish Reconquest) or with changes at the socio-economic and political level (the British enclosures throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the feudalization of eastern Europe between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries and the confiscation of Spain in the nineteenth century, among other examples).
The development of latifundismo, or the absence of it, was also highly influenced by the physical properties of the terrain, be it mountainous, a valley, a plain, and so on. Given the difficulties that the characteristics of a mountainous area impose on large estates, smallholders have always been the predominant option there.
In the period known as the Roman Republic, which took place between 509 BC and 27 BC, large-scale cultivation and large agricultural estates developed remarkably, probably because the cultivation of wheat was also widespread to replace other cereals. Little by little the latifundio was absorbing the small property, the exploitation of slaves grew and the measures monopolistic.