Land Tenure and Land Policy
After independence from France, Alexandre Pétion (and
Jean-Pierre Boyer) undertook Latin America's first, and
most radical, land reform by subdividing plantations for
of emancipated slaves
Christophe's Kingdom and Pétion's Republic, ch. 6).
The reform measures were so extensive
1842 no plantation was its original size. By the
century, therefore, Haiti's present-day land structure was
largely in place. The basic structures of land tenure
remarkably stable during the twentieth century, despite
increasing pressure for land, the fragmentation of land
and a slight increase in the concentration of ownership.
For historical reasons, Haiti's patterns of land tenure
quite different from those of other countries in Latin
and the Caribbean. Most Haitians owned at least some of
land. Complex forms of tenancy also distinguished Haitian
tenure. Moreover, land owned by peasants often varied in
and number of plots, the location and topography of the
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geographically limited and frequently out of date.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
national censuses of 1950, 1971, and 1982 provided core
information on land tenure, but other studies financed by
United States Agency for International Development (AID)
supplemented and updated census data. The final
the 1982 census were still unavailable in late 1989.
The 1971 census revealed that there were 616,700 farms
Haiti, and that an average holding of 1.4 hectares
several plots of less than 1 hectare. Haitians, however,
commonly measured their land by the common standard, a
carreau, equal to about 3.3 hectares. The survey
that the largest farms made up only 3 percent of the total
of farms and that they comprised less than 20 percent of
total land. It also documented that 60 percent of farmers
their land, although some lacked official title to it.
Twentyeight percent of all farmers rented and sharecropped land.
small percentage of farms belonged to cooperatives. The
census, by contrast, had found that 85 percent of farmers
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
soils, competition over land appeared to be intensifying.
land density, that is, the number of people per square
of arable land, jumped from 296 in 1965 to 408 by the
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
inheritance, or a claim of long-term use. Many farmers
rented land temporarily from the state, absentee
owners, or relatives. In turn, renters frequently
of these lands, particularly parcels owned by the state.
generally enjoyed more rights to the land they worked than
sharecroppers. Unlike sharecroppers, however, renters had
for land in advance, typically for a period of one year.
prevalence of renting made the land market exceedingly
even small farmers rented land, depending on the amount of
income they derived from raising cash crops.
very common, was usually a shorter-term agreement, perhaps
lasting only one growing season. Sharecropper and
partnerships were less exploitive than those in many other
American countries; in most agreements, farmers gave
half the goods they produced on the land.
Other land arrangements included managing land for
landlords, squatting, and wage labor. The practice of
on-site overseer (jéran) manage land for another
usually another peasant residing far away, was a variation
sharecropping. Jérans were generally paid in-kind
their custodial services. Overgrazing, or unregulated
was the most common form of squatting, which took place on
kinds of lands, especially state-owned land. A small
peasants were landless; they worked as day laborers or
subsistence plots. In addition, thousands of Haitians
seasonally to the Dominican Republic as braceros
laborers) to cut sugarcane under wretched conditions.
Data as of December 1989