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SOS: Save our soils!

Published:Saturday | April 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Care more for environment


As we celebrate Earth Day this month, I am concerned about the way we conduct our agricultural practices.

Every year about this time, we see trucks laden with young lumber destined to become yam sticks (vine support). This practice is not only expensive to the yam farmer but must play havoc on the environment, since young future lumber trees are reaped for this purpose.

Some years ago, there was news that experiments were being conducted to make yam sticks from plastic which would have a long lifespan, since they would be recyclable. I have not heard about this experiment again, and I suppose it went the way of many other things in Jamaica which make news and die shortly after.

I notice in Barbados that yams are allowed to run on the ground, thus eliminating the need for sticks. Maybe our agricultural scientists need to do more work on this one.

Young trees are also being used in similar way by the jerk meat producers. The swollen rivers of mud each rainy season indicate that future generations may not have soil in which to cultivate and we could soon rival our neighbour, Haiti.

I also observe that farming is done on steep hillsides with few soil-conservation practices in place. The use of big tractors on the slopes is unsuitable, since they are not able to plough on the contours as the old animal-drawn equipment could. This leaves gutters running downhill, taking the soil to the gullies or rivers after each shower.

Need for new approach

Agencies such as the Rural Agricultural Development Authority need to examine the use of small machines which can be used on steep, sloping lands.

As 4-H clubbites, we were taught years ago how to construct simple but effective contouring by the use of an 'A' frame and spirit level and using napier, guinea grass or stones to make barriers. Travelling around the island these days, I don't see much evidence of this being practised.

Farmers should also be discouraged, even if it requires the use of legislation, from planting crops which promote erosion on steep slopes.

We not only need to look at food security now, but if we do not care the soil, future generations will have no such security and will be at the mercy of the foreign farmer.