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Jamaica in soil-health crisis (Part 1) – Advocate bemoans government’s inaction

Published:Thursday | May 14, 2015 | 12:00 AMPaul H. Williams
Soil health advocate Mark Brooks inspects soil in St Thomas.

JOHN'S TOWN, St Thomas:

Mark Brooks, St Elizabeth farmer and agriculturist, is again calling on the Government to put in place methods to restore Jamaica's soil health, which he said is one of the poorest in the world.

Brooks has been campaigning for more than 16 years to get the Government to do something about the problem which spans the length and breadth of the country. There is no good soil in Jamaica, he's maintaining.

"It's a worldwide problem, but Jamaica is very bad. It doesn't make the news ... because it is not sexy. People don't want to talk about it. Yet, it is so newsworthy in the sense of the impact it has. But, there is no sound bite," said the man who has been farming for 37 years.

"It's a world crisis, but Jamaica is far advanced in the crisis," Brooks told Rural Xpress in St Thomas on Monday. He was there to meet with Dr Danielle Treadwell, a soil-health specialist/associate professor from the University of Florida.

He is the same Mark Brooks that the late agriculture minister, Roger Clarke, mentioned in his Sectoral Debate on May 8, 2013, in which he spoke about Jamaica's poor soil health, which he said we had to start addressing in a "systematic way".




Since the death of Clarke, Brooks was brought on board to work on the Soil Health Technical Working Group in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the International Year of Soils was officially declared in March, but Brooks is no less a frustrated man.

"It is a national momentous problem affecting not only food, which then goes on to the economy, environment in terms of water retention ... soil can't absorb water and store it in ... because the soil health is poor," Brooks explained, "We are making recommendations, but nothing is going on because those above are not taking it and making it number one in policy."

Brooks said farmers know that there are problems, but they don't understand why, and the intricacies of soil health. "Because the people above them who should be telling them, I don't know where they are," he said. Farmers are aware of decreasing yields over the years, but are not in a position to mitigate the problem. And there is no coordinated effort to tackle the matter, said the vegetable farmer who seemed to be at his wits' end.

"It's like a rudderless ship," is how Brooks described the situation.