From Left: Cletus Lavia, Wadey Morris and Donovan Samuel
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December 16, 2022
Volcanic ash killing our livelihood – farmers (+ video)

by Lyf Compton

The ash that was deposited during the April 2021 La Soufriere volcanic eruptions is still creating problems for farmers in North Windward.

Once mixed with the soil, volcanic ash is a good fertilizer capable of boosting yields, but what was supposed to be a blessing for farmers in the post eruption phase at this point seems like a curse.

Donovan Samuel of Fancy says he farms at Orange Hill, planting crops such as groundnuts, cassava, arrowroot and watermelons.

He said he restarted farming a few months after the eruptions ceased but has not been able to get good crops because of the amount of ash that has in some cases solidified and is like “mortar”.

The farmer explained to SEARCHLIGHT That he managed to reap one good groundnut crop which came from soil which was mixed properly with the ash but since then all the other crops have not produced worthwhile yields.

Samuel said when he planted, he thought he was planting in soil but the make-up of the dirt was more ash than soil so the crops were, in some instances, burnt by the ash and in other instances just did not grow properly.

“I get real licks,” he stressed explaining that he farms in an area which had huge amounts of ash deposits and when it rains more ash is washed down from the mountains, compounding the problem.

“…in the last few months rain come so much, as the scientist say we go be getting it (ash) coming down…,” Samuel said while adding that some farmers received assistance from the government where tractors went onto farms and tried to mix the soil and the ash, but the blades of the tractor did not go deep enough to bring up the dirt and mix it with the ash.

Crops thriving well in Donovan Samuel’s wife Backyard Garden

Samuel said at times he has to move six to eight inches of ash to put in a crop but then more ash is washed down from the mountains, creating serious issues.

“Sometimes when I want to plant something I have to move away the ash to get the soil and the ash is burning the crop.”

He said he is thinking about plan ting on beds but it seems as if the rain too is a problem, helping to scorch the plants.

“I don’t know if is the weight of the rain or something mixing with it because watermelon and thing just scorching up…” Samuel said.

He told SEARCHLIGHT that when he is reaping groundnuts, he has to sometimes use a fork or a hoe because if he pulls on the plant, the nuts get left in the earth because of the solid ash.

“Next three, four years when it mix will be good, but right now all the farmers are having serious problems,” Samuel noted.

He said a friend gave him some cabbage to plant and when he planted in his backyard garden, the yield was good but when he planted on his farm it was a bad harvest.

“Men farming on the hill and when they dig out the ash and the rain come, more ash coming down. Tractors can’t go there…we don’t know what to do and how long it will take. We lose a lot.”

Samuel said at this period in the year he would usually have a lot of cabbage and tomatoes, but that is not the case now.

In the meantime, he said the income support from the government to arrowroot and other farmers is a good thing as well as the UREA which is being used to, among other things, keep the arrowroot fields in good condition.

Cletus Lavia and Wadey Morris, two farmers from Point, said the ash is killing their livelihood.

“The ash just ah mash up all ah we crops them man. Anything we plant like greens anything, it ah bun them down so we cah get no good crop,” said Lavia who has been farming for about 20 years in Jack Mountain.

“Ah real ash dey up dey, you have to plow up the ash, plow up the ash before yo meet the dirt and so long as you nah meet the good dirt, yo thing and them ah dead,” Lavia pointed out.

He said all his crops are getting “bun down” because of the ash and this is the first time he is experiencing this problem but he has no idea what can be done to rectify the situation.

“Because if yo land dey pon a flat, you could get the tractor and plow it een, but like me now, my land dey pon a broadside so me have to plow it een meself.”
He said he planted “plenty” white yams and greens and the ash destroyed them.

However there is a better result when the ash mixes well with the soil but the rain is also destroying the crops as the water flows on top of the hardened ash instead of penetrating the soil.

Morris said he experienced the 1979 eruption and it did not dump as much ash as this time around. He said he farms in Orange Hill on two pieces of land.
“The same piece of land I use to get 40 to 50 sacks of potatoes, I plant vines after the volcano and the vines and them nah even come four inches,” Morris explained.

He said he also planted ginger and took very good care of them applying fertilizer and the works but they are refusing to grow. Its the same with a passion fruit crop.

“Plant some watermelon, one or two came up and whosoever came up, went back down. I getting real licks on that piece of land,” Morris stressed.

However crops planted at another place where the ash is mixed properly with the soil,is providing some yield.

He also has use of the tractor service but said it appears that the blade did not penetrate sufficiently deep in the soil.

“The ash really humbug me a lot…when the rain come the ash ah turn like concrete on the soil…water can’t even get to go underneath so easy,” Morris said.

He is hoping that the tractor service can be provided to plow the lands again.

SEARCHLIGHT was informed earlier this month that there are some holdings which are not accessible to the tractors, therefore these subsistence farmers are unable to manually penetrate the ash to plant crops.