The Rural Unknown: Land and Conflict

Ask any Saint Lucian what is one of the major sources of contention in their family and nine times out of ten the answer would be land. Land conflicts in Saint Lucia are as common as Julie mangoes in May. One could blame the skewed colonial laws which are based on family inheritance. These “family-land” laws have produced difficulties to identify “ownership” and are the very reason for many of these bitter family feuds.

However, when just over 20% of total land in Saint Lucia (generally 10 acres or less per farmer) is owned by the farming class, and there are no other natural resources on island, it is enough reason to understand why conflicts are brought about by land ownership and why they are the source of ruin for so many families; which begs me to question: If 20% of land is owned and used by farmers, who owns the remainder?  

In 2007 it was recorded that about 40% of land was under state ownership and classed as crown lands. This fraction of land could be the very key to transforming the agricultural landscape and the end to many of the futile conflicts that persist when concerning land. However, government policies have had a tendency to prefer the use of crown lands for industrial, residential or touristic endeavours.

A land bank could prove to be transformative for Saint Lucia’s agricultural sector, where the majority of farmers do not have their own property.

A land bank is a wide area of land owned by a public or private organisation for future development or disposal. Land banks would allow farmers to gain access to a parcel of land for agricultural development and would result in the better distribution and regulation of land development, while also generating income for the farmers involved.

In some instances, international bodies, such as the International Organization for Migration, are using land banks as a way for refugees to earn a living. It is a tried and trusted method that has been used in even the most developed nations.

Just over a year ago a pilot project launched for two agricultural land banks in Babonneau and Mabouya Valley, funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization. The pilot was to last for a period of 18 months and the land banks were to preserve agricultural lands and serve farmers who did not have their own property. While no one from the Ministry of Agriculture was available to provide an update of the results of the pilot, I hope that this is the first of many of these initiatives. Why fight over 20% when farmers can share 40%?

Helen's Daughters (HD) is a non-profit organization that focuses on the economic development of rural women through improved market access, adaptive agricultural techniques, and capacity-building.

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