Essay Sample: Caribbean Land Tenure in the 20th Century

Published: 2022-04-08
Essay Sample: Caribbean Land Tenure in the 20th Century
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Caribbean
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1719 words
15 min read

The debate around land rules in the Caribbean revolves around three intersecting and occasionally contradictory goals. Firstly is the equal distribution of land and other natural resources to poor households to eliminate poverty, secondly, is the preservation of natural environs and the development of the already used environment through environmental and development protocols. Lastly is the establishment of a more dynamic land market, its main aim is to increase output and investment, via documented, secure and transparent title of land (Williams, 2003). The Caribbean faces a massive problem while trying to find a legal, institutional and policy measure that can be able to balance the three differing goals. Contrary to the post-colonial state-led agricultural restructuring period where there were efforts to equally distribute land to peasants and increase medium and small-scale private property in the 1960s and 70s those efforts have been abandoned.

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The main outstanding characteristic of the Caribbean is its variety, its territories are broad and bathed by the sea in which it derives its name from, it consists of a mosaic of islands that were once conquered or colonised by Europeans who brought with them western civilisation. Various empires have exercised their power in the region while handing over their ideas, religion, languages, and concepts such as the idea of capitalism, therefore, giving each island its own unique and particular history (Olwig, 1995). Despite that their unifying threat, has been the pursuit of wealth by colonisers. All of the islands have lived under plantations that were established during slavery until its abolition in the late 19th century. The farms were therefore transformed into the agricultural export industry in the new century that exhibited brutal working conditions; the only difference is that they were working at meagre wages, not as slaves (Torres, 2016). Despite the enormous variety that was based on political, racial, linguistic and religion most of the Caribbean development has been closely tied to the military, political and economic domination of the region in the 20th century by the United States.

The Competing Land Policy Goals

The three policies act as an overlapping and potentially competing that influences the way the processes and practice of land administrations are undertaken. The three strategies reflect the historical evolution of all the Caribbean highlands. These policies are:

To advance the economic productivity and efficiency of the available limited land by maximising on the productive and establishing dynamic land markets and ensuring that land tenure is secure.

Ecological use of available land and water resources by conserving the environment for the future generations

Ensuring that the disadvantaged groups have access to land and housing.

These policies emerged during the political process when one goal appeared to be predominant. For instance, during the colonial period, the primary goals was to establish colonial estate at the expense of indigenous people. That it focused for on the first goal and suppressed the rest. However, that did not appear to last longer as the other goals emerged from political discussions and political movements. The discussions form the land policies that the government follows to get info about land tenure, usage and worth of the land in question for land strategy enactment. The government also relies mainly on the management and administration of the property as articulated in laws and regulations (Stanfield, Barthel, & Williams, 2003).

Maximizing on one of the land policy may lead to conflict with maximization of another. For instance, optimising the safety of ownership under that market objective may conflict with the effort to control owners to protect the environment off contradict with efforts to provide land to the underprivileged. Making the most of on the conservation of the environs might lead to the owner being unable to utilise their land for economic gain/benefits fully. These conflicts, nevertheless, do not excuse the policymakers from the obligation of moving forwards on each aspect. The primary challenge that faces politicians is how to create a strategy that will attain every objective and will be significant enough at least to a certain level of satisfactory and quantifiable degree of efficient land use which is sustainable and equitable.


Jamaica is the third major island in the Caribbean and the most significant English-speaking Island with an area square of "10, 991 kilometers". Its geography is very diverse endowed with volcanic-formed mounts, rainforests, fertile plains, swamps as well as a coastline that diverges off white-sand beaches and rocky cliffs. Jamaica currently has a population of 2.6 million people with 55% of them living in the urban areas. It capital Kingston serves as a commercial center and a governmental seat with a population of almost 716,000. Since the year 2011, the country has had a consistent growth rate of 0.6 percent which is in line with the government's growth rate of below 0.8 percent. The decline growth rate has been attributed to high standards of emigration rather than a decline in fertility.

The Jamaican land policy was tabled in 1996, which acknowledged the limited nature of its land wealth and the importance of correcting decades of indiscriminate meagre advance practices. The considerations in the strategy included territorial waters that are 25 times the size of the country, terrestrial areas, about 10,991 sq., km and the atmospheric and the sub-surface regions. The primary objective of the policy was to sustain productive and equitable development, use, management and conservation of Jamaica's human-made and natural resources. The project also aimed to develop and integrate development of the rural and urban areas. Several measures were to be incorporated to achieve these goals; these included fairness and equality in access and sharing of land, a divergence of economy and improvement of centers of growth.

An estimated 45 percent of packages of about 1 million land packages of the country are not registered on "the register Book of Titles in Jamaica". This makes it difficult in examining and documenting land ownership. The enormous gaps in registration and outdated makes it difficult for the office due to various types of frauds. The dominant land markets issues include family lands, updating of the tax roll, high cost of registering property onto the registry, and squatting. Activities that have been embarked on to address these concerns are such as the national land policy, geographic data management, pilot tenure regularisation project, and other land agencies that have been established to help achieve the country's policy development.


The major problem about land since it acquires sovereignty have been in the delivery of community services. The country received and paid for several plantations under the land acquisition act 1949, which were placed under specific departments that sold it to small and medium income wage earner at lending rates that were underneath the market rates. Several legislations such as the revolutionary legislation in 1980 have accelerated the countries connection and availability of affordable housing, but they have not replaced the break that was created in the plantation era. Around the turn of 20th century, around 30 families owned almost 80 percent of the island and with the ex-slaves landless and disposed. 75 percent of the island was occupied by the end of the century, and only 56 percent of people were acknowledged as landowners.

Currently, roughly 10,000 out of an informally probable 120,000 titles have been recorded. The country has taken huge strides to ensure that land in Barbados is equally distributed. "The Land Registration Act and the Land(Adjudication of Rights and Interest) Act" that was passed in 1988 were established to lower, expedite and simplify relations with rights as well as interests within land in the country in a new international economy (Williams, 2003).

The Bahamas

Contrary to Jamaica and Barbados, the Bahamas land ownership is controlled by disputes of generational lands and commonage, which are additionally made complex by the presence of similar title where several holders comprise a robust legal right of the similar property (Bethel, 2000). The introduction of the "Quieting Titles Act" was established to solve the issue. However, the act has been misused mainly with approximately 25 percent of all land being in disagreement due lack of precise records. The previous two countries have policies that ensure that most of the property is documented, however in Bahamas land is optionally documented at the Registrar of Generals Office in a registry of the deed that offers no title deed. The survey of the property is not required during registration, and the real property division records are not complete.

As long as generation property and family land are concerned, then the Bahamas cannot be judged solely as a variation of the Caribbean model. Unlike other islands in the Caribbean whose family lands are too minor to afford economic incomes for all its titleholders, Bahamian generation land is tantalising with their sheer size. The Bahamas ex-slaves had more opportunity to manoeuvre, the rights to generational property or land are not only limited to a slave owner, unlike other Caribbean islands. The Bahamian generation property may be owned by white Bahamians, by 'colored' Bahamians who were because of the mingling of slave masters and the slave and by free black and 'colored' population and by the offspring of the slaves.


The hope of the area lies in its populaces, industry and their intellect for solving how land disputes are addressed. The area has to establish a regional experience exchanges and capacity building where they can share ideas on how they resolve their land issues and share their experiences. They must harmonise land and property policies; the government must be additionally democratic by encompassing its stakeholders in solving the land issues. The region can opt to attract regional and international experts who can help in strengthening the resolution of land issues. The reason for the area to adopt a harmonised approach in solving the land issue is due to their shared history and the island share common land issues and policies.


Bethel, N. (2000). Generation Property: A Consideration of Customary Land Tenure in The Bahamas. Navigations: the fluidity of national identity in the post-colonial Bahamas, 1-6.

Olwig, K. F. (1995). Caribbean Family land: Communal Land in a Colonial Society. Informal Institutions and CPR's, 5-20.

Stanfield, D., Barthel, K., & Williams, A. (2003). Framework Paper for Land Policy, Administration and Management in the English-Speaking Caribbean. Land Tenure Center, 1-46.

Torres, P. S. (2016). The Caribbean in the 20th century. Enciclopedia De Puerto Rico.

Williams, A. N. (2003). Land In The Caribbean: Issues Of Policy, Administration And Management In The English-Speaking Caribbean. Caribbean Land Policy Network, 5-63.

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