'Agriculture quite a good industry' to commercialise Samoa's customary land – academic

A senior lecturer at Victoria University in Wellington believes tourism poses more risk for landowners and suggests agriculture as a better alternative for the commercialisation of customary land in Samoa.

New Zealand-based Samoan academic Dr Iati Iati was speaking at the Pacific Land Network's symposium at the National University of Samoa this week, where he shared his research titled, The commercialisation of customary land in Samoa: agriculture vs. tourism.

The three-day symposium focused on customary land governance issues and their links to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Dr Iati said when it comes to the commercialisation of customary land in Samoa, it is important to consider all aspects - including the economy, culture, society, and traditional rights.

He said Samoa's Land Titles Registration Act 2008 introduced the Torrens land registration system which plays a significant role in the alienation and leasing of customary lands.

According to ECOLEX - an environmental law information services operated jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and the United Nations Environment Programme - the "Act provides rules for the registration of title or other interests in land and related matters and provides for the form of transfer of title in land or other interest in land such as mortgages, caveats, leases and easements".

He said prioritising agriculture not only allows for development but better protects customary land rights which are under threat from commercialisation centred on tourism.

According to Samoa Observer, Dr Iati suggested that agriculture could be a good alternative for economic development.

"The tourism industry is very problematic. I'm not saying to do away with it, but what I'm saying is that there are a lot of issues with the tourism industry and the really key issue is the extent to which it will impact customary land tenure," he said.

"I thought that agriculture was quite a good industry to look at simply because agriculture from a customary lands point of view can actually help keep the land in the hands of the people," he said.

He believes that by striking a balance between development and the preservation of customary land rights, Samoa can navigate the challenges posed by commercialisation while honouring its rich cultural heritage.