Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Poor farming habits worsen water woes

Published:Friday | July 3, 2015 | 11:10 PMChristopher Serju
This section of the Blue Mountain Range is one of the many on which flourished, a generation ago, acres of the world-famous Blue Mountain Coffee. Today, after induced and unchecked soil erosion has had its run, the area present a picture of ruin.

MARILYN HEADLEY, chief executive officer and conservator of the Forestry Department, is contending that poor farming practices in the watershed areas that feed the Hermitage Dam and the Mona Reservoir are a major contributor to the significant decline in water inflows.

While acknowledging that severe extended drought is the main reason for falling water inflows, Headley argued that the situation had been and was being made worse by practices such as slash-and-burn farming in the Yallahs and Hope River watersheds.

"The state of the watersheds is not as good as we would like them to be," she admitted during a Gleaner Editors' Forum on Wednesday before painting a damning picture of poor environment stewardship by farmers in the Yallahs watershed, especially those who cultivate coffee.

The main issues revolve around the lack of tree cover, a situation caused by farmers who use the land with little regard for good environmental practices, which ultimately leaves it bare and subject to land slippage while reducing its ability to retain and redistribute the rainfall.

"We do have a lot of issues because a lot of the areas that you would love to be under tree cover are not ... . When there is tree cover, the land has a better ability to retain some of the water, so the water isn't running off downhill, and during very heavy rain, it will then be percolating down and coming out in the rivers," she explained.

"You'll find that in that lower, upper, and middle region, we have a big problem because a lot of the lands are leased or owned by farmers, and the farming practices do not really allow for sustained land cover because there is usually harvesting, clearing, replanting, and burning."


Replanted forest reserves


Using money provided by the European Union, the Forestry Department replanted some 405 hectares of forest reserves in a project that closed in 2013. Since then, it has received grant funding from the Inter-American Development Bank to expand the tree-planting initiative, but small farmers are reluctant to get involved. In fact, with the projection of increased coffee cultivation in the affected areas, Headley is concerned that the situation could get a lot worse.

"With the increased activity of coffee farming, you will then be looking to the possibility of losing more land that's under cover or just from the issues of burning because the burning of the land is what created a lot of our problems. People are just lighting small fires in the hope that they will put it out before night comes. They think the fire is put out, but overnight, the wind picks up and the next day we have a huge fire," she shared with the forum.

Inflows to the Mona Reservoir and Hermitage Dam, the two main water catchment areas supplying the Kingston Metropolitan Area, have fallen from just about 54 million gallons of water per day to a mere 9.7 million gallons per day, according to Robert Pickersgill, minister of water, land, environment and climate change.

This significant reduction in inflows has forced the National Water Commission to announce water restrictions that will come into effect next Monday.