Ganja cultivation can reduce watershed destruction, say farmers
Representatives of western Jamaica's Ganja Farmers Associations say they are not worried that watersheds, and other protected areas will be infringed upon, whenever ganja is legalised, as freedom to cultivate the herb, result in a decrease of intrusion in those areas.
Steven Rivierie, president of the Hanover Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association told Western Focus that he sees little or no cause for concern, as members of his organisation have always cultivated in an environmentally sustainable manner. According to him, there are enough available lands within other agricultural areas in the parish, which will suffice, and he expects no encroachment in protected areas there.
"First of all, we are organic farmers, so we are not interested in cutting down everything. So when we have to clear some land, at the same time we have to be planting elsewhere and we don't just focus on one thing. If you look around, you see everything here. So we are not into mono-cropping or one type of cultivation," Rivierie told Western Focus during an interview in Retirement, in the Dolphin Head Mountain range in Hanover recently.
"We want to mix it up in an environmentally aware and sustainable manner. Because this is our 'livity'; that is the difference between us and people who want to plant ganja just to make some money. This is our lifestyle. We have been doing this for years. Our association has 50 acres of lands available for cultivation at Retirement, 20 acres of private lands at Dundee Pen and another 15 acres in Cousins Cove," Rivierie added.
The Dolphin Head Mountain range has been the preferred location for ganja cultivation in Hanover for decades, and at one point the slash and burn activities and large scale removal of trees by farmers threatened the biological diversity of the area, which has one of the world's highest levels of endemic plant and animal species. Dolphin Head a wildlife community of nearly 150 species, 50 of which are endemic to Jamaica and a plethora of plants more than 20 of which are endemic to that area only.
A 2001 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) status report on wildlife diversity and the effects of habitat modifications on ecological communities in Dolphin Head, noted that the "site location is preferred for marijuana cultivation because of the direct sunlight and pockets of soil, in contrast to hillsides with little soil formation or low-lying areas with soil, but where sunlight is restricted".
The report also said that clearing for marijuana cultivation on hilltops has the greatest effect on birds and that there was a risk of species extinction, particularly for plants and "other highly-localised fauna". The report had subsequently resulted in the formation of the Dolphin Head Trust, which was aimed at conserving the area, in collaboration with the Forestry Department.
Veteran farmer and vice-president of the Mt Peace/Clifton Farmers Association in Hanover, Ray Kerr says while the legalisation of ganja has the potential to reverse the destruction of protected areas, a strong education component would have to be implemented.
"Presently, because it is illegal, most of the farmers tend to go into the mountains - wooded areas to cultivate ganja. Because of the illegality of it, they try to dodge from the police and so they go and plant it in a more secure environment. Upon legalisation, people would be more free to plant it. So instead of going into the mountains they will come back down to the lower-lying areas, on the traditional arable farming lands, much of which are being taken over by invasive species like bamboo," Kerr explained.
"It is easier terrain so to speak, because to farm in the mountains and the woodlands, it takes a whole heap of energy it takes to go up and come down all those hills. That would negate that problem. The farmers can use traditional farm lands and get good quality same way. But sensitisation and education has to be a paramount part of this going forward," he added.
Over in Westmoreland, in mid-2013, the then Island Special Constabulary Force commanding officer for the parish, Johnathan Boyd, had expressed concern that the parish's forest reserves were suffering from deforestation due to ganja cultivation and illegal lumbering, in areas such as Petersvale and Darliston. The concern is also mentioned in Jamaica's National Development Plan Vision 2030 which notes that 94 per cent of Jamaica's forests is disturbed and more than 20 per cent of land within forest reserves has been impacted by human activity.
But Clive Kubba Pringle of the Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association, said most of Westmoreland's farmers engage in intercropping, but through dialogue, those that are engaging in environmentally deleterious practices can be sensitised about desisting from this practice. He said there were hundreds of acres across Westmoreland, Orange Hill and Darliston, Moreland Hill areas owned by local farmers, available for ganja cultivation, so he was confident infringement on watersheds would eventually become a thing of the past.