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This land is ours (Part 3)

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The 1935 Riots helped to put land settlement again high on the colony’s agenda. The Administration accepted that land settlement was key to tackling the country’s ailing economy, but had to be forced into action by strong newspaper advocacy and pressure within the Legislative Council from the Workingmen’s Association. The situation was desperate, especially in the Central Leeward area.

A major development took place in 1946 when 13 estates of 4,004 acres were acquired in the Leeward area, but distributed on a leasehold basis. In 1961, the Government purchased the 690-acre Fancy estate. Lauders was an interesting case, for the Mitchell led Government of 1972 to 1974 purchased that estate just before it fell. The land was then taken over by squatters, since the succeeding Government made no serious effort to take it on.

Two other major land settlement projects, perhaps the most comprehensive ever, involved some 4,000 acres at Orange Hill in the 1990s and the Agricultural Rehabilitation and Diversification Project in the 2002-3 period that involved Sans Souci, Wallilabou, Richmond, Colonarie, Cane Grove and Langley Park, a total of about 1,700 acres. Government acquired the Mt. Wynne and Peters Hope estates as part of a Land Resettlement Project of the late 1980s to 2000 period, but the resettlement part of the project never got off the ground. Today, land in that area has been sold as part of a tourism development project by Canadian foreign investors.

While land remains a major concern, the political, social, and economic environment today is quite different from that of the 1940s-2003 period that had stimulated the desire for land settlement. The fate of agriculture today and the fact that our focus seems to be heavily on tourism might be a factor that inhibits activity in this area. Incidentally the Mt. Wynne/Peters Hope land resettlement project was supposed to have linked agriculture and tourism. In the 1980s and 90s when more attention was being paid to tourism development, it was hoped that tourism would be linked with agriculture, providing a needed stimulus for that sector. From very early the experience in those islands more fully into tourist development was that the major hotel chains and large hotels generally, tended instead to import their food.

Today, what used to be good agricultural land is being used increasingly for housing development, whether it is estate owners developing the infrastructure and selling the land as house plots, or as in the case of Belleisle, good agricultural land being used for a prison. Then, there is the sale of land to foreign investors geared to tourism development. A serious national conversation is needed on the issue of land use. This is particularly so in the case of the small Grenadine islands, where land is at a premium. We sell land to foreigners with the hope that their investment brings jobs, but most of those jobs are low paying and not the technical and managerial ones which remain with foreign workers. If we are serious about that, we need to ensure that our education system caters to training in areas needed in that industry. Should we not designate certain areas for agriculture and others for housing and other possible areas of enterprise? Can we not encourage local investors or those in the diaspora with the kind of concessions that will allow them to move into areas now seemingly reserved for foreigners?

With talk of the CSME this could be in collaboration with other regional investors. These are national issues that we have to seriously talk about, for after all, our land space is extremely limited.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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