February 28, 2014
Importance of forests in fight against land degradation

Forestry officials believe, as with many other issues, that education is the key to fighting land degradation.{{more}}

A unit in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has been taking the word to communities that are most vulnerable, in an effort to explain how some agricultural and farming practices can have a negative effect on the land.

Forestry officer Casmus Mcleod told SEARCHLIGHT that the department’s education unit would go along with forestry officers to observe issues of land degradation, and to engage in dialogue with individuals and groups.

“Basically they would go in the area and identify the problem. They would dialogue with persons in the community; they would liaise with schools and they would get the pertinent issues in the area and they would bring it back to the department and the head of the department would formulate power point presentations to address the issues. From time to time we would bring on board our key stakeholders, such as the solid waste management unit.”

Mcleod, a veteran of the forestry division, pointed out that land degradation is being caused by a number of practices in the upper, middle and lower watersheds of the forest, that the population needs to pay attention to.

“As it relates to the upper watersheds, what is significant in that area is the type of farming practices that goes on that does not lend to the protection of the watershed, there are anti soil and water conservation farming going on there that we refer to as unsustainable farming practices.

“We have a culture where people are conducting what we call the ‘slash and burn’ method of land clearing… it is what is causing havoc on the environment, because when they use the slash and burn method, they cut the trees arbitrarily, of course, then they burn the trees in most cases, and it pollutes the atmosphere, of course. It destroys the natural wildlife habitat and that’s a form of degradation; it’s their home and puts pressure on other areas….

“What they do is to use chainsaws, of course, and, the destruction has been accelerated now at an alarming rate; so what a person could have done in a week, they are now doing in a day….”

Mcleod explained that with the trees out of the way, there is nothing to absorb and store the rain in the upper watershed region, and the result of this is rapid run off, which can cause erosion.

“It takes with it the top soil and all the nutrients, the macro elements that are necessary for plant growth.. it takes whatever chemicals with it and enters it in the waterways where it is not needed, creating problems.”

Another form of land degradation common to this country that Mcleod touched on was the tethering of animals, especially pigs at river banks.

He said that this practice encourages removal of the “buffer zone” that is vital in maintaining water quality and acts as a “strainer” to prevent debris and other solid waste from getting into rivers and streams.

“When you have those activities occurring on the river banks, they take away that function from the edges of the river and that encourages what we call corrosion of the banks – when you have flash flooding because the banks doesn’t have any trees to hold the soil together and to cover it and protect it,” he said.

The forest officer also listed monoculture farming, ad hoc housing development and poor garbage disposal as forms of land degradation.

Mcleod said that the recent Christmas disaster was a perfect example of a number of land degradation factors rolled into one event.

He said that the forestry division will continue to play its part in educating persons about deforestation and land degradation, and would do its best to encourage positive land use in a effort to advance a greener, healthier St Vincent and the Grenadines.