Shari-Ann Henry | Step up land ownership
The poor will always be with us, so the Good Book says. However, poor people, like everyone else, must live somewhere, and have access to even basic education and health care like all else. The right of tenure is at the heart of all other aspirations.
It was wrapped up and tied up in slave ownership, the right to vote, to travel overseas and to open bank accounts and access credit.
Land challenges vary by country, but, if overcome, poor people will be on the road to self-efficacy and overall improvement in their quality of life. In contemporary Jamaica, despite the formulation of land policies and the drafting of projects and programmes to execute these policies, poor Jamaicans are yet to experience the benefits of this basic and critical right.
For many, it's a financial burden weighing on their flattened pockets, and if pursued on their own capacity would leave no space for the fulfilment of other needs, while for other persons of greater means, the formulation of land policies is another occasion to easily acquire more property and a greater stake in the society. In essence, these initiatives, though they have had a small measure of success, have not generally moved poor Jamaicans from their current landless plight.
It is observed that a major stumbling block in reducing the number of rural and urban poor is the lack of land ownership and right to titles. Land ownership in Jamaica is geographi-cally skewed, disproportionately distributed among classes, and the laws are antiquated.
At the demographic level, the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (2011) reported that the population increased by 3.5 per cent between 2001 and 2011. It was further reported that approximately 39 per cent of the population lived in parish capitals. Correspondingly, the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions (2012) reported that poverty has increased to one-fifth of the Jamaican population.
Land ownership will have to increase in order to ease inner-city blight. This inner-city blight stems from the fact that rural-urban migrants, on entering urban areas, do not have land titles and have to live on captured lands. Without land titles, these migrants are not entitled to water from the National Water Commission; a basic necessity. Also, in these areas, residents have to deal with conflicts, crime, and a myriad of other social problems.
Already, even to access a Food For The Poor house, the matter of tenure becomes a major obstacle in the way of the poorest among us.
Moreover, because of the concentration of persons in urban centres, there tend to be cases of unclear land rights, which are further compounded by comparatively weak land administrators and institutions. For that reason, the policy aim, as it relates to access to living accommodation should be towards increasing land titles for the indigent, rather than building "affordable" homes. Thus, owning a piece of land will bring peace, progress and well-being to the dwellers.
In essence, a systematic approach toward increasing land ownership is very important, though adequate consideration is not given to it.
Increasing land titles for entrepreneurs with no titles can boost businesses and create employment, especially for those in the agricultural sector. Imagine what would happen to Maas Gussy (a 56-year-old farmer in the constituency of Central St Mary who exhibits the potential of farming at a commercial level) if he would receive the land title for two acres of land he has been squatting on for 10 years.
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It is expected that he will fully cater to the nutritional needs of his family, more inclined to provide employment for the residents, increase productivity, multiply the profits, use profits to purchase another piece of land, feel free to farm on a larger scale, achieve food security, and attract overseas markets. Besides, having this land title will encourage Maas Gussy to invest in improvements to the land and make it sustainable.
Transforming informal land rights to statutory rights in these areas will help to facilitate sustainable development goal No. 11: sustainable cities and communities. This is so because it is expected that urban dwellers who are safe from eviction will feel secure to improve their homes and environs. What's more, they will be inclined to have adequate sewer systems, water piped in to dwelling, proper ventilation, build their homes using concrete and blocks, develop green areas; making their environs sustainable. Therefore, a fine-tuned land reform strategy will help to alleviate these issues and make urban centres more sustainable.
This is why I salute the leader of the Opposition, Dr Peter Phillips, who in his first few weeks in office established a Land Ownership Commission, follow on the social justice and equity mission of the Peoples National Party over many years.
Land rights have a decisive bearing on development. Specifically, it provides optimism when executing all realms of entrepreneurial, financial and socio-economic progress at the individual level (financial advice, agriculture, commerce, housing, longevity, mean years of schooling, and technologies).
Additionally, it is an asset that provides the foundation for investment in better livelihoods. On the whole, it is not easy for those who fall within the poorest quintile to further their children's education, buy a car, and pay the mortgage. However, it is expected that the land title will allow the household to step in almost any bank and get a loan to pursue their dreams.
The benefits of land ownership are far-reaching. However, the existing land laws are antiquated and they require immediate attention. It is ideal to lessen agricultural and urban slums and achieve environmental sustainability. Thus, increasing land ownership among the poorest Jamaicans will help to reduce poverty rates and contribute towards environmental sustainability.
Land ownership will provide poor Jamaicans with the opportunity to live, work, raise families and do business. The mantle of this policy push should be taken up by the GOJ and should receive heightened attention on its development agenda.
- Shari-Ann Henry holds a Master of Science in development statistics with a specialisation in social and demographic statistics from the UWI, St Augustine, campus. For her thesis, she looked at spatial inequalities across Jamaica using indicators of sustainable housing. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.