Sat | Aug 24, 2019

JBI spearheading reclamation of bauxite lands

Published:Monday | May 8, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
This St Ann farmer proudly shows off some tomatoes in her greenhouse.
The greenhouse cluster.
The greenhouse cluster makes it easy to deal with groups of farmers who are provided with inputs and training.
When sealed, the mined-out pits serve as a reservoir for the collection of rainwater, which is then used to irrigate vegetables in the greenhouse.

After decades of being accused of failing to fulfil their legal obligations to restore mined-out lands as required under Jamaica's 1947 Mining Act, bauxite companies are beginning to get it right, according to Dr Hugh Lambert, agriculture research and development specialist with the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI).

"There are now two things that make land restoration better than it has ever been. One is that we are having less mining, so most of the companies are concentrating on reclamation and restoration. Also, the JBI and other agencies have modified their methods in order to achieve more environmentally friendly restoration," he told The Gleaner.


Source of gains


Lambert, who is also president of the St Mary Association of Branch Societies of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), was quick to point out that the gains in recent years are a result of multi-agency collaboration and coordination, aimed at giving back to residents and communities of traditional bauxite-mining areas in a significant way. Much of the criticism of the bauxite industry revolves around the pits created by virtue of the mining activity; and the successes, to date, were in fact sparked by the JBI.

"The JBI has always been concerned about the use of mined-out lands, and not just for farming. We've been concerned about the lack of water as a major problem for farmers. So we've been searching for some sort of solution to the problem of water, and that is why we approached the companies to help us to shape the mined-out pits, so that we could line them to use them as ponds.

"So that is how the whole project started - when the idea of getting water in the area by using the mined-out pits as catchment areas - and out of that came the agricultural side. It was not just to encourage open fields but to set up greenhouse clusters so we could kind of maximise the use of land in the area with the water and the greenhouse technology. So it's two technologies we are focusing on - water harvesting and the greenhouse for farmers," said Dianne Gordon, director of the Bauxite Community Development Programme, on which the JBI has spent more than $60 million.

Capitalising on the opportunity to promote rainwater harvesting as a critical climate change adaptation strategy, the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) has partnered with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), National Irrigation Commission (NIC) and the Jamaica Agricultural Society to get farmers in the mining communities to buy into protected agriculture, says Dr Hugh Lambert, agriculture research and development specialist.

"We create ponds from the previously mined-out pits, some of which can hold up to four million gallons of water, by sealing them."

Solar-powered pumps are then used to channel the precious commodity to communal as well as individual 1,000-gallon black tanks, from which it is gravity-fed to the clusters of greenhouses operated by the farmers.

"So we have eight sites where we do 20 greenhouses each and we provide water. We provide all that is necessary for the first production cycle - high-quality hybrid seedlings - sweet pepper, tomato, cauliflower, broccoli and lettuce. The JSIF provides funding for creating the houses and the companies do the earthwork to create the ponds. We provide fertiliser, chemicals; and JSIF, JBI, RADA and NIC do training for the farmers. So we are getting the farmers to move away from open-field production into semi-protected structures, and this has improved their productivity significantly," Lambert added.

Catering to 180 farmers from Nine Miles, Watt Town, Tobolski and Clapham in St Ann; Content, Blue Mountain and Rose Hill in Manchester; and Myersville in St Elizabeth; the JBI is on the way to changing the agriculture landscape one mined-out bauxite pit at a time.