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Reform of native land system proposed

By Ifereimi Nadore SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Jan. 14, 2010) – In Fiji, the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act (ALTA) will be revoked under the new Land Reform program.

And all leases under native land will now come under the legal framework of the Native Land Trust Act.

This means that farmers can soon expect to be able to lease native land for 99 year terms, as opposed to the 30 years that they were restricted to under ALTA.

Native Land Trust Board general manager Alipate Qetaki yesterday confirmed these details and said the board felt the revocation of ALTA should benefit landowners who over the years were denied a fair share of returns from the use of their land.

Mr. Qetaki said the change would not only benefit landowners but also tenants and other stakeholders as well.

He confirmed that now that ALTA would be revoked, all agricultural leases would have their tenure extended from 30 to 99 years.

"The challenge is to work out appropriate terms and conditions for the lease itself. And having done this the interest of the landowners would be taken into account," Mr. Qetaki said.

He said the new changes would have to go hand in hand with today's economic climate.

"This means that we have to build in certain conditions such as the periodic review of the rent likewise the periodic assessment of land," Mr. Qetaki said.

This, he said, would also require a swifter and stronger enforcement regime.

"We don't like to see people taking advantage of the landowners," he said.

"We have to consider the reform with its current context. The main issue is to have accessibility to land but you have to pay the price," said Mr. Qetaki.

He reiterated that the ownership of the native land would not change.

"We have to find ways for how the landowners can best utilize their land and we will have all the necessary framework to facilitate that.

Best use not only for the landowners, but for the tenants and whole country, he said.

He said the Native Lands Trust Board (NLTB) would like to empower the landowners to lease their own land for commercial farming, housing, and hotel business.

He said the board would work closely with the Fijian Affairs Board by advising the landowners to become involved in entrepreneurship.

"We would like to see the landowners properly invest their trust funds from land for future needs in education, development and other community service," said Mr. Qetaki.

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