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Agrarian areas: landscape dynamics, ground laws, parties involved and planning

Espaces agraires : dynamiques paysagères, structures foncières, acteurs et planification
Paul Minvielle, Jacques Daligaux and Stéphane Angles
p. 7

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1This issue of the journal Méditerranée examines the relationships existing between land property and agrarian landscapes. The transformations made to agriculture and landscapes raise important questions and causes for concern. Some areas are subjected to heavy pressure from land owners and to acute conflicts from the parties involved. On the contrary other areas are disused and agricultural landscapes are on the decline and replaced by pieces of fallow land and forests. New approaches and new tools try to reconcile the development of territories with the continuation of an agricultural activity. The reaffirmed place for agrarian landscapes in territorial planning illustrates perfectly the importance of the challenges which are at work. We must also precise that generally speaking agricultural areas must the subject of a wider approach from a geographical point of view, including built up areas situated nearby and natural areas as they are called. That’s the reason why we speak of agricultural areas in the heading of this review, doing so we are in line with a scientific practice which is firmly established linking up landscapes, structures and systems at different levels, from the parcel to the region. The articles we present throw a light on this set of issues about landscapes and land property in agricultural areas. The main lines of approach privileged by the authors will concern: the modes of regulation of conflicts of actors between the different space users. The land tools participating in the restructuration of parcels and/or in the protection of agricultural spaces; the incitative approaches such as landscapes charters; the management of farms in protected areas; the emergence of agri-urban plans in the reflection about town; the links between landscapes and the quality of food more particularly in Protected Denomination of Origin, (PDO);

2During the first part of the XXth century, rural geography tried its best to define the best types of agricultural landscapes, the origin of the shapes of fields and the nature of the different systems of farming. Landscapes have been important landmarks in analyzing agrarian structures undergoing major changes. Then during the two last decades of the XXth century the complexity of the relationships between town and country and the emergence of questioning about the environment and about sustainability of territories put landscapes at the heart of concerns for scientists from different horizons. The landscaped approach considered by city planners or philosophers is very different from the biogeographers’ or the geomorphologists’ one. This semantic richness can be expressed in very different scientific practices, but this polysemy is far from being an obstacle to the spreading of studies on landscapes.

3As part of their planning and development policies, civil society and territorial authorities get hold of landscapes as part of European laws (landscaped charters). If agrarian landscapes specially mobilize searchers it’s because they are at the very heart of big challenges for the future of territories. For about thirty years landscapes have been very much solicited to understand the dynamics of suburban spaces, these in between territories. They threw lights on housing problems, on food supplies, on the quality of the environment and on the multifunctionality of agriculture. More recently some searchers focused on the last agricultural productive spaces left within built up areas. They analyzed the part left to agriculture spaces in urban planning, and the emergence of alternative forms of agricultural production. To answer to this questioning we propose to be focused on 3 angles of approach: question on land property issues; study of landscaped dynamics in the long run; methodological approach privileging a landscaped analyze through the use of photography.

Land property issues

4Landscapes are often mobilized in antagonistic relationships between space users. The installation of collective facilities having an important impact on landscapes, or a transport infrastructure consuming agricultural land can both provoke a conflict between local elected authorities, the farming world and State agents. Locally the balance of power between actors has been changing; on the one hand farming people are becoming progressively marginalized from a demographic and political point of view. On the other hand, the generalization of hobbies and of outdoor activities has been developing new practices (trekking, mountain bike riding horse trekking...) which sometimes are hardly compatible with agricultural productive activities or traditional practices as shooting or hunting. It is necessary to answer the often complicated questions: what types of conflicts emerge within agrarian spaces? What part must we allow to divergent analyses on the practicalities of spaces? (Productive, environmental, and recreational).What is the part of collective logics and of individual strategies in the game of actors?

5Is the question of habitability of territories at the heart of problems? In metropolitan areas the preservation of agricultural activities happens to be problematic in front of the pressure of urbanization. Are specific procedures of protection as the ZAP (Protected Agricultural Zones) really efficient? Are new adapted tools conceivable when there is a high pressure concerning land property? How does local governance work in front of such a tension linked to the big issues of land property? At the same time urban societies are in search of local agriculture, the result is the appearance of associations like AMAP, and at the same time people realize how important agriculture is in urban plans. What sort of plans appears in the field of agricultural and town planning? Are they likely to change the nature of relationships between town and country? New public policies dedicated to the development of difficult hinterland, marginal zones, mountains, oasis... have been put into action for several years in numerous regions in the world, especially on the Mediterranean shores (pillar II of the PAC, pillar II of the Green Morocco plan. These territorial politics are based on the economical development of local specialties in the frame work of international or regional plans for local and sustainable development. They favor notions of terroirs, patrimony and landscapes, relying on an increasing demand at international and national level, for typical products or products with a great potential of ethic values (Fair Trade) and ecological ones (organic labels...). They also rely on green tourism and eco-tourism.

Study of landscaped dynamics in the long run

6The agricultural revolution in the territories either precocious or late often erased the diversity of landscapes and the complementarities of terroirs in a town or village area. The movement of populations from rural areas cleared out the country of laborers who maintained terrace cultivation, dry stone walls, and quickset hedges. The changes in structures o production led to restructuring parcels and to desert the terroirs which could not be exploited with machines and led to the redevelopment of forests on steep slopes and led fallow land to multiply. It follows a sort of homogenization of landscapes and even sometimes a real trivialization. Can we review all the changes in landscapes in the long run? What are the mechanisms at work when there is a disruption between a landscape and a productive system? At the same time the rapid growth of agricultural productions under the sign of quality and more particularly the development of PDO is a process which can spread over several decades: achievement of awareness, consolidation of collective structures of management, and adaptation of local know-how to modernity. Is the maintenance of traditional habits of production in specifications (cahier des charges) a factor which favors the maintenance of a landscaped diversity? In southern countries can the increase of value of agricultural products under the sign of quality (AOP, organic, Fair Trade) maintain exceptional agricultural landscapes which have not yet been subjected to the modernization of structures of production?

A methodological approach privileging a landscaped analyze using photography

7Geography and more particularly rural geography, uses tools for specific analyses in the field of social and human sciences. The matter at issue is in particular thematic cartography and photographic interpretation. In this issue our concern is more precisely to study the place of photography in the construction of knowledge in .In recent years the generalization of information in the form of aerial photography or satellite images through Google Earth diffusion for example, deserves a methodological development. Now these images can’t be analyzed efficiently without a solid geographical approach and without mastering rules of semiological representations. Even more basically, choosing the photographical approach raises the question of the construction of knowledge, the look, the point of view more or less neutral according to the angle of approach. The first studies about the perception of landscapes, about living spaces, about representations appeared several decades ago. What do these approaches amount to? Can we say there is an excess of the all perceptive in some studies carried out in social sciences and concerning more particularly rural spaces? On the contrary must we consider that it is a major and established knowledge in sciences applied to landscapes? The development of approaches of patrimonialization and requalification of landscapes is one of the consequences of the interest taken to some remarkable landscapes. What about landscapes which are not “looked at” in some parts of the world? Vast and emblematic agrarian landscapes have long been used for marketing purposes by institutional and agricultural actors. However are the representations made about the products of terroirs and typical landscapes always compatible with the modernization of agricultural practices and agrarian structures? In the end it is important to underline that it is necessary that every study should be based on various regional points of view within the Mediterranean space. Then we propose analyses about the littoral but also about the hinterland, on the northern shores of the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, and France) but also on the southern shores (Algeria).

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Bibliographical reference

Paul Minvielle, Jacques Daligaux and Stéphane Angles, Agrarian areas: landscape dynamics, ground laws, parties involved and planningMéditerranée, 120 | 2013, 7.

Electronic reference

Paul Minvielle, Jacques Daligaux and Stéphane Angles, Agrarian areas: landscape dynamics, ground laws, parties involved and planningMéditerranée [Online], 120 | 2013, Online since 22 October 2013, connection on 02 March 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Paul Minvielle

Associate professor of Geography, UMR Telemme 7303, Université d'Aix-Marseille,

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Jacques Daligaux

Associate professor of Geography, UMR Telemme 7303, Université d'Aix-Marseille,

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Stéphane Angles

Associate professor of Geography, Université Paris Diderot-LADYSS,

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