Monday, March 24, 2014

How Farming Land Reform Aided Tourism

In a document of 1933, drawn up as part of what was called the "Registro de la Propiedad Expropiable", there is a list of owners of land ("rustic property") who each possessed more than 250 hectares. There are nearly 70 names on this list for the Balearics as a whole. Many of them are similar - they were members of families - and a couple are familiar names. Juan March Ordinas, he of the Banca March, is one of them. A second was Joaquín Gual de Torrella. In addition to some land in Binissalem, he had much more in Alcúdia, Muro and Sa Pobla. The exact amount of land in the first two was unspecified. For Sa Pobla, it was specified. He owned most of it.

Gual de Torrella is central to the story of the development of Albufera. This member of the Mallorcan nobility acquired vast amounts of land - hence why he had interests in Sa Pobla, Alcúdia and Muro - included among which was the farming colony of Gatamoix, which had been founded by the British engineers responsible for draining and cultivating Albufera.

I referred yesterday to the farming colonies of the second half of the nineteenth century. Gatamoix was the biggest of them. Unlike others, such as Colonia Sant Pere, it lasted only a short time. It wasn't a philanthropic exercise on behalf of Frederick Bateman and the other engineers. They needed workers, so they created the colony. Bateman's son, Lee, was philanthropic. He also went native and was incredibly vain. He renamed the colony Sant Lluís, a Catalan corruption of his Christian name, and presided over the financial ruin of the New Majorca Land Company. Gual de Torrella got himself a bargain and promptly decided to close Gatamoix.

The sad story of Gatamoix is just one example of how Mallorca's land was subject to the whims of private landowners. The 1933 list, because of the families involved, shows that the island's land was in the hands of a small and select group of owners. Not all were bad or unscrupulous (Gual de Torrella did some immense good; it was he who was responsible for introducing rice cultivation to Albufera), but for political reasons (this was the time of the Second Republic and some of the owners were from the nobility) and for legitimate farming reasons, expropriation was deemed necessary in 1933.

Pre-tourism, Mallorca had long faced a struggle in optimising its land resources in terms of exploitation, self-sufficiency and export. The farming colonies had partly been a response to this struggle, and they were an attempt at some form of planning. But by 1933, there was still a lack of order. Land and its use was fragmented, despite reforms that had been ongoing for a century, and partly this was because the land was still predominantly in the hands of this select group of owners. This struggle wasn't helped by how the land was used. By the 1930s, there was still a reliance on cereal farming (Bateman had envisaged wheat cultivation at Albufera, which proved disastrous), but alternative crops promised far better yields and export possibilities - these were almonds, figs and carobs. And it was their cultivation which was the farming reason for the drawing up of the register of land for expropriation.

There was also, of course, the political reason, and in addition there was some pragmatism. Earlier changes to inheritance meant that the great estates of this select landowning class could no longer just be handed down. Also, a number of these owners had serious financial difficulties. The expropriation register hastened a process that had got underway before the Republic came into being, namely the sale of land.

When we consider Mallorca's tourism development, we tend to do so in terms of the tourist himself and of factors such as the jet engine and tour operators. What is often overlooked is the land factor. The expropriation register of 1933 may have referred to "rustic property", predominantly in rural areas, but some of it included coastal land (Albufera was a case in point). Typically, this land had been considered all but worthless, but entrepreneurs (and bankers) were starting to appreciate that it might not be, and this change in attitude towards coastal land plus inheritance rules, financial difficulties and the expropriation register combined to produce an unexpected result.

A fundamental reason why Mallorca's tourism took off as it did in the 1960s was the existence of nascent resorts which sprang up during the wars, and they came about almost by accident. Both in anticipation of the expropriation register and once it was published, sales of rural land which included parcels of coastal land led to the creation of Son Bauló (Can Picafort), Palmanova and Cala d'Or, to name but three.

Tourism development has been a principal cause for the decline of the farming sector. Yet, without a realisation that they would, reforms of rural land were to prove to be crucial to the very industry which was to usurp farming's one-time economic dominance.

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