Dear Editor – As a Solomon Islander and one whose livelihood depends very much on the land I am living on,
I tend to be nervous about the catch words and phrases being used now-a-days to try and allure landowners, to open up their lands for development.
Whilst development is good, we must also carefully study how land affects people’s lives on a daily basis, especially in Solomon Islands.
Land, once it’s value is compared in monetary terms, becomes a contentious issue which becomes a commodity that instead of bringing in development becomes a headache and a time bomb for disputes.
We have to look beyond just the call for land reform and find out who asks our government and people to do this.
Is it donors? Is it international financial institutions? Or is it both?
While they may have very good intentions, we need to look beyond and look deeper than just sweet words and promises.
There is a saying that “if you have nothing to stand on, you’ll fall for anything”.
Let’s be more cautious about what these foreigners want to offer us or we’ll fall for it and then realize we are in deep water.
Let’s look at how other countries who’ve attempted this and how they fare when it comes to development and the pros and cons experienced by them.
I think of our close neighbours Vanuatu, PNG and Fiji.
In Vanuatu, almost fifty percent of their land is owned by foreigners.
Landowners are being locked away from their hunting, fishing grounds and beaches.
There are physical fences being erected around masses of land to keep away land owners who leased their lands for so called developments.
These people who leased land in turn advertise them internationally to interested buyers who would then sub-lease or do outright payments of these lands.
This leaves the landowners with very little or no way out in this quagmire at all.
On the other hand, in the Ramu valley of PNG, there are landowners who were advised by expatriates against large scale developments and yet they are well off by way of livelihood than those who allowed their land to be used for development.
They earn more than those employed by the multi-national corporations and the people who supposed to receive income by way of royalties.
They put their resources together and work collectively, looking out for each other’s needs and they become self-sufficient in many ways.
In Fiji, it’s a different story. Although people own land, it is the National Land Trust Board that controls ninety percent of the land.
It’s quite complex, but I’ve found out from my work colleagues that even they as land owners need to get permission in order to build houses in their own land controlled by the board or start a new village.
When the leases on land expired and they wanted to re-possess those lands, they couldn’t because the government who actually owns the land re-leased those lands again.
So you see, when we have those instruments (New acts and rules) in place, eventually we’ll be strangers in our own land.
The lands become properties of the government, multi-national corporations and donors who would lease your land for the rest of your and your children’s lives.
The Melanesian Indigenous Lands Defense Alliance (MILDA) is formed to counter this sudden invasion by foreign governments and multi-national corporations.
Land Grabbing in Melanesia is a real issue and our governments and people need to be educated about these foreign agendas.
MILDA’s purpose is to educate people on the advantages and disadvantages of these so-called reforms and its impact on land grabbing in Melanesia.
In our first meet in Honiara, MILDA and NGO’s registered under Development Services Exchange (DSE) have agreed that DSE should be involved in the land reform discussion that is currently undertaken by our government.
The intention was that our people do not have very much say in what is going on, therefore, local NGO’s should speak on their behalf on such issues.
I haven’t heard a word from them since, but hope they are doing the task mandated to them at that time.
Land Reform is good, but when it comes to the point where recording or registration is necessary, that’s when we have to be careful.
The other point in time to be cautious of is when you do your lease or whatever after the registration of your land.
Whatever agreement you make with people with cash at this point must be well thought out and thoroughly checked and understood before any signing of a document.
Otherwise, like the Ramu valley landowners, our people should cultivate and do business using this precious commodity to raise the standards of their living.
We can do it if the government can help in whatever way it can to assist landowners realize this dream.
Foreigners come and go because of money, but our land is here to stay, unless you did a bad deal and have given away your land to them.
I am really concerned and so should you!
Nadi, Fiji Islands