Land Reclamation

Reclamation of swampland became a necessity for the new Italian state immediately after its unification. The agricultural situation in Italy was described in 1877 by Senator Stefano Jacini in a famous inquiry into the physical, moral, intellectual and economic conditions of agricultural workers, which highlighted a macrocosm of poverty, malnutrition, promiscuity and ignorance. The senator also denounced the widespread swamps and malaria, encouraged by deforestation and by the neglect of previous governments.

The first law regarding land reclamation dates back to 1882 and deals with the issue as a question of hygiene and health. Right after the war an organic conception of land reclamation began to take hold, with a combination of hydraulic, agrarian and hygienic reclamation. Between 1923 and 1924, new laws dealt with land transformation and included the idea of building towns initially to house workers involved in land reclamation and, later, the rural population that intended to settle in these reclaimed areas.

The fundamental law of bonifica integrale, known as the ‘Mussolini law’ dates back to the 24th December 1928. This combined previous regulations and also gave the bonifica integrale the task of creating independent farms, in order to allow farming families to settle permanently in the area, thus guaranteeing the small land reclamation works needed to eradicate malaria.

In reality, the policy of the bonifica integrale, was part of a broader programme of agrarian policy whose aim was food self-sufficiency, in order to reduce foreign debt for the purchase of grain. In 1925, the government, led by Benito Mussolini launched the “Battle for Grain”, an agrarian reform campaign aimed at increasing the internal production of cereals by choosing better seeds, the spread of chemical fertilisers and mechanized machinery, with the increase in available new land reclaimed from the swamps. This was achieved in just six years. It appeared to be a great success at an international level, but in the long term it caused serious distortions that affected the whole of the agricultural production chain, which was divided into a kind of monoculture.

Reclaimed land in lower Friuli

The Friuli lowlands are clearly divided into two parts, following the karst spring, where the waters that meet the impermeable subsoil come to the surface, forming broad flowing water courses. The unpredictable direction of these courses make a canal system essential, in order to collect water and create favourable conditions for settlement and cultivation. As a result, for centuries, vast areas of the Friuli lowlands were unproductive, malaria infested and sparsely inhabited.

The transformation of the lowlands through land reclamation only began in the early years after the war to meet two needs: the desire to eliminate the basins where marsh mosquitoes, which caused malaria, bred and the need to make new territories productive. Since it was annexed to Italy, land reclamation in the lowlands of Friuli was one of the most important works in the area and produced much conflict between opposing interests. The problem was solved by the government, which in 1929 nominated senator Primo Cesare Mori president of the newly established “Second level consortium for land transformation in Lower Friuli”, charged with coordinating all activities. Mori’s management proved pragmatic and decisive, however, he was unable to complete the project, in part due to the fragmentation of agrarian property.

In the mid 1930s the Consortium’s action had only partially advanced, but the State was now no longer able to fund work like land reclamation, despite a law of 1933 that placed bonifica integrale at the top of the list of the Fascist government’s internal economic policy. In a short time the work in the Lowlands was reduced solely to one new entrepreneurial initiative: the construction of Torviscosa.