Fri | Jun 18, 2021

Barry Wade on the Landless and Squatting

Published:Wednesday | August 12, 2015 | 12:00 AM

I communicated with Barry Wade, PhD, OD, JP, on January 23, when, at my request, he sent me articles on squatting; one of which was 'Environmental Justice and the Problems of Landlessness and Squatting and Environmental Refugees: The Church exercising its Preferential Option for the Poor'.

Environmental justice was the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and empowerment of environmental laws, regulations and policies. In other words, the people who live near the Riverton Dump and on the gully banks, etc, deserve environmental justice.

Few persons have written the early colonial history of Jamaica like Barry. "In Jamaica ... colonizing Spaniards arrived, the Tainos were decimated, plantation ownership resulted in deforestation and the transformation of land for mono-cropping, African slaves were imported for their labour but were given no freeholds of their own and, eventually with emancipation, they were placed on the most marginal lands in small land holdings to eke out their existence. Today, the problems of landlessness, poor land use practices, low productivity, and lack of community wholeness are all a direct result of that history. How do we now address them?"


gov't's approach


Barry acknowledged that, since 2000, the Government's Land Administration and Management Programme (LAMP) has sought to alleviate poverty and enhance economic growth by improving land tenure security through the development of an efficient system of land titling and administration. The programme has targeted about 15,000 small informal landholders, but the need is for 150,000 landholders to be given a legal right to land they have occupied and/or worked for several years.

Two other approaches have been suggested in the publication 'Whose Common Future', by The Ecologist (1993). The first is the placement of substantial tracts of lands in the care of communities who will have control over possession and use of the land by legitimate community members. This has been practised in West Africa. A second approach is the placement of land by legitimate individual owners in 'land trusts'. Whoever farms the land is granted the long-term right to use it under conditions agreed by the trustees. However, the sale of the land is forbidden and what the farmer owns is not the land but the long-term right to use it. Barry argues that a somewhat similar model has existed in Jamaica since the early 1950s, following destruction of Port Royal by Hurricane Charlie in 1951. In this example, all the town's landowners pooled their land in a trust called the Port Royal Brotherhood, which then rebuilt the town and apportioned out the new dwellings to members of the trust and other town residents at reasonable rentals. The original landowners no longer owned individual plots of land in the town, but shared in its collective ownership through ownership of shares in the Brotherhood.

Squatting is the illegal or unauthorised occupation of housing or land, usually for purposes of residence or farming. In squatting, the economic potential of land on which the squatting takes place cannot be fully realised. This is because there is no legal entitlement for the occupiers, no means of transfer or exchange for cash, loans, or a mortgage. Barry boldly asserted that 'squatting represents one of the largest capital resources in the world." In Jamaica, according to a Ministry of Housing Survey in 2008, there were 754 squatter communities. The squatter population is believed to be one million. Seventy six per cent of these communities are located on Government lands, 38 per cent of which are on arable land and 10 per cent in environmentally fragile areas. Sixty-six per cent of the squatter settlements have existed for more than 20 years!

Barry believed the Church should be in the vanguard of lobbying and working for justice for the landless and squatters.

• Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@