Jamaica

An image of the country's flag.

Jamaica is a lower-middle-income country with almost half its population living in rural areas and dependent on the land and increasingly depleted natural resources for livelihood. Agricultural land is unequally distributed. Most farmers can obtain only small plots through a tenure system based on kinship ties and have no written documentation of their rights to land. Insecure tenure has meant that productivity of these farms remains low; unsuitable farming techniques have contributed to soil loss and flooding.

Jamaica also has a large number of squatters (20% of the population) often occupying land that is environmentally fragile and unsuitable for occupation. Nineteen percent of the country‘s population lives below the national poverty line. Two-thirds of Jamaica‘s poor households are headed by women.

Water resources have been strained by population growth, pollution, and high levels of water use for domestic purposes. Deforestation has gradually worsened through decades of overexploitation and improper management.

Jamaica is a leading producer of alumina (aluminum oxide) and bauxite. The mining sector constitutes 60% of the country‘s foreign investment. Unsustainable development of the sector has contributed to deforestation, soil degradation, and water pollution.

KEY ISSUES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERVENTIONS

USAID‘s Country Assistance Strategy (2010–2014) recognizes the Government of Jamaica‘s request for assistance targeting the agricultural sector. USAID has developed programs to promote rural economic development and food security through addressing unsustainable farming practices, the need for diversification of crops, and the development of markets. Complementary efforts to deepen programs could focus on the following:

  • Rural Land Tenure Security. The number of squatters and strength of ―family land‖ tenure in the country suggest there may be value in exploring options for legal recognition of the various types of customary tenure, and strengthening appropriate customary systems and supporting institutions to complement formal titling programs. The government has been engaged in a multi-year project to title and register the country‘s Land Administration and Management Program (LAMP). USAID is conducting an evaluation of the progress and impact of the program at this stage. The evaluation will determine how USAID might best assist in the improvement of land tenure security.
  • Urban and Peri-Urban Land Access and Tenure Security. Donors could review existing governmental programs designed to address informal settlements on state and private land. USAID could also provide technical assistance to design a comprehensive strategy and accompanying legal framework, including the development of a plan for regularization of encroachment, and a system of incremental or stepped land rights, as appropriate. Donors could also assist in the design of dispute-resolution systems and appropriate tribunals for conflicts regarding urban and peri-urban land, including claims by squatters seeking redress for eviction.
  • Women Farmers’ Land Rights and Access to Services. Women tend to be among the poorest people in society. Although women can legally own land, in practice they rarely do. USAID‘s Women in Development program has been engaged in Jamaica on issues of education and trafficking. This program could be extended to reach issues affecting women farmers in particular, including securing land rights and accessing credit and extension services.
  • Local Governance Capacity. As part of the agency‘s commitment to helping the government increase security and reduce corruption, USAID could assist in building rural governance capacity at the community level as a fundamental part of interventions in natural resources management and enhanced rural livelihoods. Local governance mechanisms could be strengthened to address local environmental problems such as lack of compliance with environmental regulations.
  • Community-Based Natural Resource Management Models. Sustainable management of Jamaica‘s watersheds, water resources and forest lands is a priority for the Government of Jamaica. USAID has been engaged in various community natural resources management programs, including the Ridge to Reef project. USAID could collect the experience of other projects and donors, develop best practices and lessons learned, and create models for community management of watersheds, water resources, and forestland.

SUMMARY

Jamaica, the third-largest of the Caribbean islands, is a lower-middle-income country that is home to 2.6 million people and visited annually by another 3 million. Almost half of all households in Jamaica live in the island‘s rural areas and depend on the land and the island‘s increasingly depleted natural resources. Nineteen percent of the population lives below the national poverty line. Two-thirds of Jamaica‘s poor households are headed by women.

Jamaica‘s rural population suffers from insecure tenure and the unequal distribution of agricultural land. A small number of farmers control a disproportionate amount of farmland, monopolizing high- quality arable land and leaving small farms with marginal hillside land. The state owns and controls approximately 22% of Jamaica‘s land, with the balance held in freehold, either individually or by families as ―afmily land.‖ Thirty percent of private land in Jamaica is held as ―family land.‖ This tenure system provides access to land based on kinship ties, but plots are small and characterized by low productivity. Few rural landholders have documentation of their rights to land. Jamaicans obtain access to land through inheritance, kinship ties, lease, purchase, and squatting. Although women in Jamaica have the legal right to own land and may be included on documents as joint or individual landowners, they are seldom landowners in fact, and are among the poorest members of Jamaican society.

The land market, particularly in sales and leases in urban areas, is robust. Yet because of the combination of economic hardship and housing shortages, approximately 20% of all residents are squatters, often occupying land that is environmentally fragile and unsuitable for occupation. Efforts to remove squatters often result in conflict, and government programs to provide services in some informal settlements have not kept pace with demand.

Formal laws governing land in Jamaica are limited in number and scope, and efforts to improve land- administration institutions and processes are ongoing. Jamaica‘s 1996 Land Policy aims to promote development and sustainable use and management of resources. The policy covers a wide range of topics, including land administration, conservation, and the institutional framework for land administration.

Increasing population growth, pollution, and high levels of water use for domestic purposes have strained water resources. Declining water resources most dramatically impact impoverished communities which, in turn, rely more heavily on natural resources such as forest land and products. Unsuitable farming techniques have contributed to massive soil loss and flooding. Deforestation has gradually worsened through decades of overexploitation and improper management.

Jamaica is a leading producer of alumina (aluminum oxide) and bauxite. The mining sector constitutes 60% of the country‘s foreign investment. Unsustainable development of the sector has contributed to deforestation, soil degradation, and water pollution.

Published / Updated: November 2010