If you drive through most of our farming areas, you will notice persons cultivating large tracts of the reserves which separate the farmlands from the drainage canals, other farmlands or roadways. Poor households are desperate for land on which they can cultivate to earn an income.
In 1993, there were about 25,000 farm households cultivating about 400,000 acres of land. An average household was therefore dependent on 16 acres of land for its survival.
Sixteen acres cannot adequately provide for a household. This is why you have many farmers having side-jobs. Their farm size is too small to being in an income that would be sufficient to feed their family. Out of those 25,000 farming households, more than 90% were involved in cultivating less than 50 acres each.
There are many small rice farmers today who are cultivating less than 10 acres per crop. And this cannot support their families. Small rice farmers need a minimum cultivation of 50 acres if they are going to enjoy the benefits of economies of scale. The rice sector will remain limited if there is a preponderance of farmers cultivating small plots. These small plots may work for other crops but not for rice.
Micro-farmers dominate the agricultural sector. In 1993, 44% of the farms in Guyana were cultivating less than 5 acres. That is how ridiculous agricultural land distribution was. Another 41% of the farms were between 5-10 acres. The remaining 15% cultivate farms greater than 10 acres each. Land distribution was skewed against the poor and landless. Nothing much has changed since then.
Farm size is constraining the development of agriculture. Small farmers need larger plots.
When the PPPC took over in 1992, there were about 5,000 land applications pending. The PNC government had only been issuing an average of 500 per year. There is still a large backlog.
The people who need land are not being given land because the waiting list is too long and because there is no policy for land for the landless and poor.
Burnham had inserted, in the 1980 Constitution, a provision that stated that land belongs to the tiller. It is not an enforceable provision, but it highlighted his intention that land should only go to those who would make use of it, not use it to become landlords or for speculation.
A person should not be allotted any lands unless he or she demonstrates the capacity to put those lands almost immediately into production. If someone is going to be granted hundreds of thousands of acres, then the lease should be conditional on the land being put almost immediately into production. If that does not happen, the land reverts to government. The government has to be absolutely certain that when it issues leases for large acreages, the beneficiaries will not use them for speculation or rental.
Land distribution should be guided by a land use policy. APNU+AFC has promised such a policy, but this is yet to be completed. It is quite a ridiculous situation that the country is going “green” but there is no land use policy in place, apart from the land use plan left by the PPPC.
It is unjust and unreasonable that while there are thousands of applications for land pending, we have a situation for a few individuals to be granted thousands of acres of land. Given the large demand for agricultural land, the government should place a moratorium on granting new leases until such time as it can develop a land policy which will ensure land for the landless and the poor as a matter of priority.
Land is in short supply. The idea that Guyana has unlimited arable land is a myth. Only about 15% of Guyana’s lands are considered good for cultivation and much of this requires extensive infrastructure to make it cultivatable. With the many land giveaways that have occurred over the years, what is going to be left for the poor and landless?
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