In August 1982 the Land Reform Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, assisted by the Department of Regional Development and Environment at the OAS, began the Morne Panache Land Registration and Farmer Resettlement Pilot Project. While the Mabouya Valley had long been recognized as having great agricultural potential, the area embodied many of the issues of Saint Lucia's land problem: land scarcity, ownership disputes, uncertain tenure, encroachment of forest reserves, and soil erosion.5 The area was also representative of small-farm communities throughout the country. In choosing a specific site for the Project, the LRU and the OAS sought a locality that would provide the greatest opportunity for gaining experience during the Project activities. The LRU and the OAS used three specific criteria in their selection:
1. Land ownership uncertainties that could cause difficulties during survey and registration.
2. A land distribution pattern indicative of a dynamic farming region with restrictions posed by severe land shortages for small, full-time farmers.
3. Under-used estate lands available for redistribution.
5Ibid., chapter 8.
The Project team selected an area extending approximately over 1,500 acres on the left bank of the Mabouya River that included the farming communities of Morne Panache, Dubonnaire, Grand Riviere, and the Bosquet D'Or and Clavier sections of the Government-owned Landco Limited.6 1980 Farmer Survey data showed that the area encompassed 246 private holdings, almost 60 percent of which were in the 1.0-4.9 acre size category. Interested readers should turn to Appendix A for an in depth socio-economic view of the Project area.
6 Landco Ltd. is an enterprise established in 1979 as a holding company for the lands acquired from the Dennery Factory Estate.
Initially, the OAS designed the Project to include a land registration and titling programme as well as a farmer resettlement scheme. It soon became clear, however, that these objectives could not be achieved during the Project's lifetime. New land laws drafted by the Land Reform Commission in 1979 and 1980, which needed to be enacted before the Project team could begin registration and titling, remained under discussion in the legislature until 1984. Secondly, the land shortage in the area was such that the 120 acres of Government lands available for redistribution were not enough to effectively alleviate land scarcity among the participating farmers. Thus, the Project was limited at the outset to the surveying of parcels, establishing legitimate claim (in uncontested cases), and the recording of all relevant information on social, economic, and agrarian conditions in the area. Field activities and further studies into the land tenure problems continued through 1983. Appendix B provides a detailed discussion of these activities and the information and experience gained by the Project team.
The following is a brief discussion of the a few of the more pertinent findings:
Registration and Titling
Tenure relationships were found to be governed by both legal and customary definitions. Therefore, two sets of expectations existed in the communities regarding the conditions under which one could receive title. The Project team recommended that any future registration efforts be as flexible as possible. This flexibility would involve investigating in great detail the residents' understanding of tenure and as well as finding ways to minimize any detrimental effects that registration and titling might have on the interests of small farmers who are more familiar with the customary tenure system.
In the case of family-lands, the Project team recommended that registration and titling programmes consider the differences in individual situations. Because of variations in holding size, the number of potential and actual claimants, the social relations among claimants and, possibly, the legal status of the original ownership claim, no abstract notion of "fair partitioning" was found to be especially useful. What constituted "fair" depended on a number of factors, an important one being the opinions of the co-heirs. The team recommended that partitioning be determined on a case-by-case basis.
The Claims Process
Most of the occupants and owners who filed claims lacked accurate information on the location of their parcels, so that it was nearly impossible to identify a parcel based solely on the information given on the claim form. Consequently, when a claimant was absent at the time of demarcation and failed to send a representative or otherwise inform the team, the linkage between his or her claim and the demarcation information could not be established.
Of the 98 demarcated parcels, 16 were claimed by more than one person. Because of the identification problem, this is probably an undercount. Experience from the claims process reinforced the important role that land adjudication would play in the national LRTP.
Communication with Area Residents
At the beginning of the Project, a dialogue was established between the Project team and the community members at a number of town meetings and through a community liaison officer. Unfortunately, public understanding of the Project remained low. One misunderstanding involved the reduced scope of the Project. Although clearly informed that the Project would not include titling and land distribution, many residents believed that these activities were still forthcoming. These residents gradually lost interest when they realized this was not the case. However, the community liaison officer was able to reduce these negative effects as much as possible. The liaison also insured effective feedback from the community regarding specific problems and complaints.
This experience illustrated the importance of making available to the public precise information on Project objectives, especially at the outset of activities. Development teams need to make a considerable effort when informing the community of any changes in objectives. Emphasis should be placed on the Project limitations to insure their acceptance by the community.
The Project activities provided invaluable training and experience to the Saint Lucian professional and technical staff. In particular, the expertise acquired by members of the Lands and Surveys Department later became a critical ingredient in the institutionalization of the modern land-registry and land-information system. By testing a program of collaborative technical assistance at a local level and increasing awareness of the problems of land-tenure, the Morne Panache efforts prepared the way for a more equitable and rational utilization of agricultural lands throughout the society.
Although the Project, as an initial effort, was unable to address the wider issues of which Morne Panache is a microcosm - land scarcity, hillside farming, soil erosion, silting, water-logging, and perpetuation of economic hardship - the Project activities successfully focused on the needs of several hundred of the rural poor.
Following the demarcation survey, the Morne Panache Pilot Project came to an end. After national elections, the new Government dissolved the Land reform Unit and reoriented activities of the OAS. Of the initial Morne Panache objectives that were cancelled, nearly all were later achieved in the nationwide Land Registration and Titling Programme (LRTP) and in the integrated development project now underway in the Mabouya Valley.