Unclaimed and abandoned land to be taken over by government

A proposed new law empowering the government to take ownership of Portugal’s “abandoned agricultural lands” has been presented to Parliament this week by the Ministry of Agriculture.

The plan is for the State to set out “identifying” unclaimed land. It will then attempt to find out if there are any legal owners. If no-one is found within a three-month period, the land will absorbed by the Bolsa de Terras – an initiative created in 2012 designed to give farmers fertile land to work on.

But ownership will not be obtained that easily. Only after 18 years – and in the continued absence of identifiable owners – would it pass to the government.

Online news portal Notícias ao Minuto has suggested the new law could “be seen as the government interfering with private properties”.

Agriculture Minister Assunção Cristas disagrees, however, saying it is “cautious” as it gives owners enough time to prove land is theirs.

She added that if owners can prove their title over land that has been rented via the Bolsa de Terras, then they will be entitled to “the rent and any other income the government has received from the land”.

It is unclear nonetheless how much land lies abandoned in Portugal. National Statistics Institute (INE) estimates somewhere in the region of 100,000 hectares.

Público writes that “for decades, Portugal has been discussing what to do with large plots of land that are left abandoned” – stressing that they very often pose serious fire risks.