Help the Land Tenure Center celebrate 50 years of international development work April 28–29

The Land Tenure Center (LTC), first U.S. Agency for International Development sponsored program at UW-Madison, will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Saturday, April 28, and Sunday morning, April 29, 2012.  The program includes a public forum and anniversary dinner on Saturday, April 28, and Sunday morning panel discussion on April 29.   Newly appointed CALS dean Kathryn VandenBosch will welcome visitors to the event. View a complete program and order dinner tickets at

The Land Tenure Center was established in 1962 with funding from the Kennedy administration’s U.S.-Latin American initiative called the Alliance for Progress. Raymond J Penn, professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics and a leading institutional economist, was founding director. The first major overseas program centers were in Chile and Colombia with additional projects in Brazil, Bolivia and Central America. Research and training programs were extended later to Africa, parts of Asia, Eastern Europe and newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.

LTC is now part of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies located in Science Hall. Stephen Venura, professsor of Soil Science and Nelson Institute, is the current director. As a result of major reductions in federal funding, the Land Tenure Center has been reduced mainly to services assisting students and faculty with seminars, visiting scholars, and collaborative projects.

A unique world collection of land tenure documents and publications, many accessible nowhere else, is maintained by UW Steenbock Library. More than 425 LTC research papers and publications have been digitized and put online through the UW library system called Minds@UW.

When the Land Tenure Center was established in 1962, it provided a fresh approach to international development research and policy analysis. Most early development programs were focused on Green Revolution technologies aimed at increasing food production. LTC provided a critical missing link by addressing institutional and structural changes that opened the way to broad-based, sustainable, development. It gave priority to tenure issues involving land and resource access and use.  And it the strengthened local organizations and institutions necessary to support cooperative marketing, credit services, improved technologies, and technical assistance and education for the majority of producers.

The Land Tenure Center was built on a long history of land and institutional studies at the University of Wisconsin dating back to the 1890s. The model for crafting legislative reforms grew out of the pioneering work by Richard T Ely and John R Commons during the progressive era. They demonstrated that the public’s interest in land, water, forests, and environment could be logically and practically connected to the users’ need for security and economic opportunity. It was that model that gave us a technically sound system of worker accident insurance, regulation of railroads and public utilities, and in the 1930s, a national social security system.

Key LTC organizers were determined to bring the Wisconsin approach onto the global stage.  Raymond Penn and Kenneth Parsons, Agricultural and Applied Economics, both land economists, had organized a World Land Tenure Conference at UW in 1951 where a land tenure center was proposed. Jacob Beuscher, Law School, was a leading expert on land and water law.  Bryant Kearl, Agricultural Journalism (now Life Sciences Communication) understood the power of the printed word, of a permanent library, and regularly issued field research publications that would technically reviewed edited and distributed worldwide. He arranged for on-site filming by Fritz Albert, Agricultural Journalism, using motion picture film as a visual data collection tool.