Thu | Jan 21, 2021

Soil erosion is threatening food security

Published:Monday | November 30, 2020 | 12:06 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

A great amount of discussion is currently around the proposed digging of the big marl hole at Bengal in St Ann. To my mind, this is nowhere as serious as the massive soil erosion taking place after each flood rain and dry winds that occur in the island each year.

When I saw the rivers of mud running to the sea during the recent rains, I wonder how many million tons of soil have been lost, but I have not heard much discussion about this matter. Soil is the medium in which most of our food-producing plants grow, and constant erosion over the many years is mainly responsible for the declining yield in food production. One result is that an increasing amount of chemicals have to be used to boost the yield each year. This increases the cost of production, while the residue washes away into the seas, poisoning both fish and reef, in addition to polluting the underground water and killing the plant pollinators. I recall as a boy visiting Alligator Pond, where there was an abundance of lovely fish caught in shallow waters. Now, you get mainly small fish, and the sprats caught in the same waters are mostly suitable for bait.

The reasons for this massive erosion are many, but the reduction of the forests without replanting is a major one. Recently, I passed a truck laden with young saplings on the way to make yam sticks. That reminded me of the Pharaohs of Egypt killing the boy babies. Farms, because of constant subdividing, do not give room for proper agricultural practices such as crop rotation, and the rearing of the few heads of cattle by small farmers, which helped to fertilise the soil, is not as common today.

Buildings have now replaced a lot of vegetation and so can no longer control water run-off, so the precious soil ends up in the sea. The same reason why there should be no housing construction on certain sloping lands should also be applicable to some farming practices on steep lands. Tractors which prepare the land nowadays cannot plough on steep hillsides, so it has to plough downhill across the contours, thus contributing significantly to soil erosion. As young 4-H club members long ago, we were taught how to plant on sloping grounds and to line out contours using a spirit level and an A-frame, then completing the process with grass or stone barriers. I don’t see much of this these days. Are these not useful practices anymore? Sometimes it is the simple things that make a difference.

Finally, soon we will be having drought again. It appears as if some persons have just discovered the practice of rainwater harvesting, but in parishes like Manchester and St Ann this has been going on for generations. I believe that some of the bauxite mining pits and marl holes can be lined with plastic to harvest some of the water that is eroding the soils. We need to take action now.

TREVOR SAMUELS

P RO, National Consumers League

tasamuels@cwjamaica.com