Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Let land go back to the future

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 - www.fijitimes.com

Tenure is only one factor in productivity, the writer says+ Enlarge this image

Tenure is only one factor in productivity, the writer says

There has been much debate about proposed land reforms by Krishnamurti and championed by interim Sugar Minister Mahendra Chaudhry. While some landowners support the idea of dereservation of native land, others are against the idea. Paula Raqeukai, president of the Pacific Islands Landowners and Consultancy Group talks on the issue

IN the book written by a Professor Ron Crocombe titled Prospects for Prosperity of Land Reform in the Pacific Is-lands", the term "land reform" is used to describe policies or agendas designed to change land tenure and related aspects of the economy or polity.

This is in order to achieve higher productivity, more equitable distribution of or control over land, greater administrative efficiency, less litigation, or the establishment of relationships considered more just, stable or appropriate.

Any reform can be evaluated only in the context of the values and goals of people involved.

Thus, the recent land proposal designed to dereserve native land in Fiji in the name of guaranteeing financial returns to this most treasured tangible asset owned by natives, mentioned by Mahendra Chaudhry (S/T Feb 17) is no exception, especially during this time of absent parliament democracy.

This is when the military-backed interim regime can go ahead and make changes as it wishes. This has been proved in the latest changes to the Great Council of Chiefs.

I do not want to engage in a political debate.

However, as a professional land management consultant, I wish to remind stakeholders the consequences and advantages of having such a land reform during this political and economical uncertainty in Fiji.

Effects of land reform

The Native Land Trust Board, the legal trustee of all native land in Fiji, and the interim regime must be reminded that land reforms throughout the world have often failed to achieve their objectives.

The same has been true in the Pacific region, where it has been assumed that if land rights were defined, registered and made available to individuals, land disputes would be minimised, problems of multiplicity of ownership and fragmentation of parcels and use would be overcome and a pattern of independent peasant farming by individual families would emerge.

Most important, it has been assumed that this will result in increased per capita productivity.

In fact, these results have eventuated in countries such as Hawaii and partly in Fiji while in other like Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Kiribati and Tonga this has not eventuated.

The Hawaiian experience

This was particularly true in the case of land reforms in Hawaii during the 19th Century.

A comparison of results in Hawaii, Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, and the Gilbert Islands (today's Kiribati) shows that only in Hawaii per capita rural productivity increased and there land was acquired in vast area, not by families, but by powerful corporations who farmed it as scientific commercial enterprises.

The same could take place in the native reserved land of cane-belt areas in Fiji if this proposed land reform is allowed whereby vast tracts of land would be leased to powerful corporations.

We must be reminded that the destruction of the native Hawaiian traditional system in the name of productivity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries resulted in a period of disruption and decline during which the native Hawaiian population nearly disappeared, and some natural resources were permanently despoiled.

The native customary way of life was replaced by a plantation system maintained by an economic and political oligarchy.

Thus, ownership of vast areas of the land in the Hawaiian group of islands was converted into freehold land, plus leaseholds in the public domain became the hallmark of the new regime during the late 19th Century.

Of Hawaii's land area (4,111,500 acres), the State, together with USA Government, owns approximately 42 per cent, 53 per cent is privately (freehold) owned while the natives of Hawaiian merely own 5 per cent of land area.

This was a direct result of land reforms introduced in the name of productivity.

I believe the majority of native Fijian landowners, including my Fiji-Indian brothers, would not like to see the Hawaiian experience happen here.

Fiji land situation

Native Fijians own approximately 83 per cent of all land in Fiji, while the Government owns 9 per cent, with the remaining 8 per cent under private ownership or freehold tenure. Mr Chaudhry thinks these tangible assets owned by the natives are worth tens of millions of dollars but in reality these are worth more. This is merely because of its associated intangible value, or simply in the Fijian context land is part of their soul, heart, culture and tradition', which cannot be justly measured in monetary value.

Therefore, any land reforms in the name of productivity must be carefully studied and analysed, with all stakeholders taking part and reaching a consensus.

We deserve a better approach concerning this proposed land reform and will not like to see this as another unresolved ALTA legislation.

The unresolved ALTA legislation basically involved the unwillingness of the tenant's parliamentary representatives to take part with the landowner's parliament reps mainly because of political differences, self-centred agendas and power-hungry politicians who have their priorities wrongly placed to undermine the necessary ALTA reforms.

Any hidden agenda behind the proposed land reform by Krishnamurti and his team must be discussed openly.

Those who study history, know that history repeats itself the late Sir Winston Churchill once observed,

"The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see" (What's behind the new world order, 1991, p1.).

Along the same lines, the Prophet Jeremiah observed: " stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths, and where the best road is, walk on it and you will live in peace."

Mr Chaudhry must be reminded that land tenure is only one factor in land productivity or sugar-cane productivity for that matter and, even if all tenure problems were solved, output may not be greatly increased without improvements in farming technology, well-trained and skilled farmers, credit facilities and marketing services.

Beyond these are very important cultural factors that tend to change fairly slowly, especially among Fijians.

Furthermore, Mr Chaudhry and his proposed land reform advisers, for the sake of accountability, should first obtain actual data of the best arable landownership in Fiji before even thinking to suggest such a proposed land policy.

Our research shows 70 per cent of all freehold land formerly held by Europeans in Fiji is now owned by our Fiji-Indian brothers, which is equivalent to approximately 1024 square kilometres or 5.60 per cent of land area in Fiji (land area is 18,284 square-kms.

Although 83 per cent of land by area in Fiji is Fijian-owned, most of this is of very poor quality, isolated and with minimal potential. Interestingly, almost 90 per cent of leased government land is held by our Fiji-Indian brothers.

Combining the two land categories above simply means that our Fiji-Indian brothers possess 14 per cent of overall land tracts in Fiji, almost 80 per cent the best arable land.

Thus the imbalance of the Fijian wealth or, in Mr Chaudhry's context, " the Fijian people live a life of indignity and poverty" cannot be attributed alone to the non-good use of their 83 per cent land, when the reality is that only 20 per cent of Fiji's best agricultural land is retained and realised to maximise optimum financial returns to them.

To all those behind the proposed land reform, please do not take advantage of the political situation to push this under the pretext of productivity to save the ailing sugar industry.

Tenure is only one factor in productivity. What about other important factors that will enhance productivity, especially among tenants and the native Fijian landowners like farming technology, credit facilities, highly trained and skilled farmers and labourers, better infrastructure, utilities and marketing services?

The Pacific Islands Landowners and Consultancy Group was set-up in 2005 by some of the region's land management graduates for the purpose of offering advice and awareness programs to the Pacific Islands land and resource owners on how best to use their tangible assets to realise maximum returns and sustainability

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