HAITI SHARES COMMON features with other Caribbean economies regarding its agrarian structures. However, due to the unique outcome of its colonial links with France, the country followed a frustrated transformation from plantation to peasant economy. The main socio-economic unit is the peasant family, long considered the backbone of the national economy, but the actual land tenure situation is largely unknown. The country lacks a cadastre to register land properties and transactions. No other basic information is available, since the country has had no serious census since 1971. The state policy for the agricultural sector has traditionally been one of taxation, with scarce interest in getting involved in rural production or direct regulation of the same.
Haiti has dealt with the turmoil of incessant political changes during the past decade, experienced its first important democratic change in December, 1990, and then another interruption of this process between 1991 and 1994. The return of the democratic regime is merely 18 months old. Only a few measures towards the rural sector have been taken so far, among which must be mentioned the abolition of the hated rural police, and the creation of the Institut National de la Réforme Agraire (INARA) and the Ministry of Environment.
At present, the rural sector issues are related to the need to define a macro-economic policy that will take into account the decaying agriculture sector, rampant decapitalization and chronic tenure conflicts, the urgency to organize and guide the multiple initiatives of non-governmental and foreign origin operating at regional levels and the inevitability of broad institutional reforms according to macro-economic choices (decentralization, reshaping of the taxation systems, etc.).
Meanwhile, the general atmosphere of democratic renewal has brought back popular and peasant organizations. This has encouraged a general discussion on the ways and means for a concerted intervention on the land question, which the government is encouraging and widening. In this same direction, an imminent law on the Territorial Assemblies should enable the local governments and grassroots organizations to help define alternatives and implementation of new policies in the countryside. The government has taken the opportunity to attempt an experimental programme of land reform in this part of the country, where state-owned land is available.
The land market is characterized by total opacity, which, combined with the general misinformation on land tenure, makes it quite difficult to propose general land reform at the moment. Research is underway to overcome this situation prior to the adoption of a law on the matter.
The immediate future of the rural sector in Haiti is clearly dominated by challenges: building up accurate and reliable information on the land question; mounting local conflicts boosted by the prospect of imminent reforms and land scarcity; promoting wide participation by all stakeholders in discussing and analysing the options; and definitions of clear priorities at the macro-economic level.