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Land Tenure and Land Policy

After independence from France, Alexandre Pétion (and later Jean-Pierre Boyer) undertook Latin America's first, and perhaps most radical, land reform by subdividing plantations for the use of emancipated slaves (see Christophe's Kingdom and Pétion's Republic, ch. 6). The reform measures were so extensive that by 1842 no plantation was its original size. By the mid-nineteenth century, therefore, Haiti's present-day land structure was largely in place. The basic structures of land tenure remained remarkably stable during the twentieth century, despite steadily increasing pressure for land, the fragmentation of land parcels, and a slight increase in the concentration of ownership.

For historical reasons, Haiti's patterns of land tenure were quite different from those of other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Most Haitians owned at least some of their land. Complex forms of tenancy also distinguished Haitian land tenure. Moreover, land owned by peasants often varied in the size and number of plots, the location and topography of the parcels, and other factors.

Scholars have debated issues related to land tenure and agriculture in Haiti because they considered census data unreliable. Other primary data available to them were geographically limited and frequently out of date. The three national censuses of 1950, 1971, and 1982 provided core information on land tenure, but other studies financed by the United States Agency for International Development (AID) supplemented and updated census data. The final tabulations of the 1982 census were still unavailable in late 1989.

The 1971 census revealed that there were 616,700 farms in Haiti, and that an average holding of 1.4 hectares consisted of several plots of less than 1 hectare. Haitians, however, most commonly measured their land by the common standard, a carreau, equal to about 3.3 hectares. The survey concluded that the largest farms made up only 3 percent of the total number of farms and that they comprised less than 20 percent of the total land. It also documented that 60 percent of farmers owned their land, although some lacked official title to it. Twentyeight percent of all farmers rented and sharecropped land. Only a small percentage of farms belonged to cooperatives. The 1950 census, by contrast, had found that 85 percent of farmers owned their land.

Studies in the 1980s indicated a trend toward increased fragmentation of peasant lands, an expanding role for sharecropping and renting, and a growing concentration of higherquality land, particularly in the irrigated plains. As a consequence of high rural population density and deteriorating soils, competition over land appeared to be intensifying. Haiti's land density, that is, the number of people per square kilometer of arable land, jumped from 296 in 1965 to 408 by the mid-1980s-- a density greater than that in India (see Demographic Profile , ch. 7).

The three major forms of land tenancy in Haiti were ownership, renting (or subleasing), and sharecropping. Smallholders typically acquired their land through purchase, inheritance, or a claim of long-term use. Many farmers also rented land temporarily from the state, absentee landlords, local owners, or relatives. In turn, renters frequently subleased some of these lands, particularly parcels owned by the state. Renters generally enjoyed more rights to the land they worked than did sharecroppers. Unlike sharecroppers, however, renters had to pay for land in advance, typically for a period of one year. The prevalence of renting made the land market exceedingly dynamic; even small farmers rented land, depending on the amount of extra income they derived from raising cash crops. Sharecropping, also very common, was usually a shorter-term agreement, perhaps lasting only one growing season. Sharecropper and landowner partnerships were less exploitive than those in many other Latin American countries; in most agreements, farmers gave landowners half the goods they produced on the land.

Other land arrangements included managing land for absentee landlords, squatting, and wage labor. The practice of having an on-site overseer (jéran) manage land for another owner, usually another peasant residing far away, was a variation of sharecropping. Jérans were generally paid in-kind for their custodial services. Overgrazing, or unregulated gardening, was the most common form of squatting, which took place on most kinds of lands, especially state-owned land. A small minority of peasants were landless; they worked as day laborers or leased subsistence plots. In addition, thousands of Haitians migrated seasonally to the Dominican Republic as braceros (temporary laborers) to cut sugarcane under wretched conditions.

Data as of December 1989

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