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Sunday 17 December 2017
Letters to the Editor

Finding ways to manage soils, improve farming

THE EDITOR: TT joins the international community, and in particular the Global Soil Partnership, in observing World Soil Day today. We do well to note that this year, the Partnership has chosen to focus on the following theme: “Caring for the Planet starts from the Ground.” This has tremendous significance here.

People seem to have forgotten that soil is a finite, non-renewable natural resource. It is the foundation of the farming system, which itself underpins human food and nutrition security. It therefore plays a very critical role in human livelihoods. Unfortunately, national development policy and practice in many of our small-island developing States seem not to have been shaped by such understanding.

In our situation, we continue to witness the insidious, wanton degradation of our soil resources due to persistent, inappropriate management practices and extreme development pressures, leading to unsustainable intensification and inadequate governance over this essential resource.

We need look no further than the western Northern Range for stark evidence of this. Uncontrolled hillside development has wrought untold havoc, with costly impacts on the entire country. Denudation is now past obscene.

As if the irreversible loss of so much of our valuable soil to erosion of the hills is not sufficient, this “lost” soil now becomes a monster, clogging drainage systems and waterways, intensifying flooding and polluting the near-shore marine resources. A monumental financial and economic loss to society annually. More frighteningly, there is increasing evidence that the hitherto pristine eastern Northern Range is also under serious threat.

The entire Northern Range also adequately exemplifies the curse of incoherence in governance of our land, soil, forestry and water resources — a multiplicity of responsible agencies governing finite space, where a complex of myriad human activities compete for land, with inadequate coordination. Once more, we’re not connecting the dots.

Observance of World Soil Day 2017 should afford us the opportunity to devise more innovative ways of addressing the challenge of improving soil management and combatting poverty and food and nutrition security, two very much linked concerns. We need to seriously look at ways of reclaiming, rehabilitating and better managing our soils while improving farm incomes.

Strategies may include: incorporating simple, sustainable soil reclamation/rehabilitation and management techniques as part of standard agricultural practice; creating competitions among communities (part of Better Village?) to encourage participation and recognise farmers who have shown most improvement in reclaiming/rehabilitating or managing soils and increasing productivity; using successful farmers as leaders in demonstrating what is possible. But we need equally to closely review and improve the ways in which we manage our soil and land resource.

The Faculty of Agriculture, UWI St Augustine Campus, inherited and extended on the long tradition of excellent work on Caribbean soils initiated at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture.

A good place to start is to critically re-examine and extend on the relevant studies and let them inform the way forward. Evidence must inform policy and action.

WINSTON R RUDDER, Petit Valley

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