Bernard Lodge/Innswood Estate Raises Historic, Unsettled Land Tenure Issues

PM--Lee-Chin Lee-Chin and PM Holness

Kingston, Jamaica, Sunday, September 11, 2022. The Advocates Network join many Jamaicans in expressing deep concern and unease about Michael Lee Chin’s plan to convert 3,000 acres of agricultural lands for real estate development. The removal of plots of lands from intergenerational inhabitants and consolidating these plots into large land parcels which are then sold as development lots to private interests is troubling and raises broader unsettled land tenure issues. Traditionally, these lands have been cultivated by subsistence small-farmers to alleviate poverty and contribute to Jamaica’s food security. Importantly, these lands enable small farmers to construct their own affordable housing solutions to occupy with their families as proud owners, as well as to create a capital asset that can provide the basis for intergenerational wealth. This issue is of historic significance!

At Emancipation in 1834, some lands were made available to the Freed Africans who purchased them and built houses and cultivated the land; ownership of these lands now exists outside of now formal land titling processes. By 1865, there was widescale dislocation of many of these small land-owners, with the colonial government refusing to make available additional lands for them to purchase, resulting in widescale unrest. The Morant Bay Uprising was sparked primarily over discontent with land tenue issues, which have remained unresolved till today.  

In addition, persons who worked on many of the sugar estates were often given lands as part of compensation for working there over the years. The Bernard Lodge Estate (approximately 5,397.02 acres) and the Innswood Estate (approximately 3,000 acres), both in St Catherine, are examples of “such compensation by land.” Yet with no apparent recognition of the historical significance of these estates, Bernard Lodge and Innswood are currently slated for government development to accommodate future population growth of the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA). This present-day eviction of small-settlers from these former sugar lands continues the historic, intergenerational disenfranchisement of farmers which began with the colonial government in the post-emancipation period. Instead of providing adequate and fair land tenure to these farmers, they have been relegated into ‘squatters’ because they have no titles. Again, they have been issued eviction notices, driven off the land, and their historic traditional settlements and housing architecture demolished for sale to the wealthy few. 

Furthermore, we disagree fundamentally with the trend towards increasing urban sprawl and the conversion of our best agricultural lands into concrete jungles for commercial and housing development. Our focus should be on proper planning, improving, and upgrading our existing urban centres.

Importantly, in a country, which is struggling to contain its burgeoning crime problem, the findings of CAPRI reports (2019 & 2020), which suggest a direct correlation between landlessness, unaffordable/inadequate housing, and increased crime, need to be taken seriously.  

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