Desertification and drought are caused as a result of man’s effects on nature – deforestation, poor agricultural practices (poor soil and water conservation/drainage, overirrigation), continuous intensive cultivation and inadequate development controls and absence of good governance with respect to planning and management of physical developments, including construction of buildings and infrastructure.
Over the past twelve (12) years Saint Lucia has suffered from the effects of drought and desertification without comprehensive works done to combat the damage caused. The result has been the slow degradation of the land, which has caused the authorities to devise a plan to combat the issues.
A National Action Plan to Combat Desertification and Drought was therefore developed and subsequently implemented. The primary purposes of this plan were to contribute to the development of an integrated framework for combating land degradation in Saint Lucia, in addition to mitigating the physical, biological and socio-economic impacts of land degradation and drought. This was spearheaded by the BIT under the SFA 2003 European Union grant programme, the EMF and the Government of Saint Lucia with Agricultural Consultancy and Technical Services Limited (AGRICO) of Saint Lucia as the Project Contractor.
The NAP/SAP was developed by team of four (4) consultants under the guidance of AGRICO. The Plan was revised by the Minister for Agriculture and then presented to the Cabinet of Ministers for approval and implementation.
The primary objectives of the National Action Plan to Combat Desertification/ Land Degradation in Saint Lucia (SLUUNCCD-NAP/SAP) were to:
Chief Forestry Officer, Mr. Michael Andrew believes that the persistent problem of soil loss and land degradation in key watersheds and coastal areas have highlighted the need for sustainable land management practices in the Agricultural and Construction industries. “It is estimated that soil loss is as much as 25 to 63 tons per hectares per year for some of the larger watersheds and approximately 300,000 tons annually due to banana cultivation alone.” For every ton of bananas produced, some 2 to 3 tons of soil is lost. Almost half of this erosion is due to cultivation on steep slopes which has increased sedimentation of waterways and the dwindling of the island’s water resources.’’
Land degradation includes loss of ecosystem resilience, loss of ecosystem functions and services, deforestation, water and wind erosion, riverbank erosion, soil fertility/productivity loss, degradation of soil structure e.g. hardpan formation, water logging, and Stalinization/salt water intrusion. Additional consequences are acidification, loss of or damage to vegetative cover, sediment deposition on productive land and in rivers and waterways, loss of habitat and of biodiversity (terrestrial and marine).
The NAP/SAP for Land Degradation and Drought was therefore undertaken in order to curb the continued loss of land productivity and reverse the declining trend in the availability and quality of the island’s water resources.
The NAP/SAP served as one of the fundamental components of the National Land Policy (NLP) by promoting and enforcing the adopting of sustainable land management in Saint Lucia. The NAP/SAP established a system for monitoring and evaluating land degradation and drought using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications and Geographic Position System (GPS) as assessment tools. A user-friendly manual has also been developed identifying sustainable land management approaches and practices.
In targeting the forest sector, water agencies, farming communities, Agriculture sector and the Public at large, the goals of the programme were:
Through the programme, it was identified that land degradation is the result of several root causes, primarily physiographic and climatic variations, fragile soil types, prevailing land tenure systems, and limited areas available for development, thereby creating intense competition between often limited land use options. This has resulted in increased activity in the upper watershed or other sensitive areas, affecting the landscape/ endemic flora/fauna and impacting on river and coastal water quality.
BIT Executive Officer, Bertram Clarke, who also managed the EU SFA 2003 programme that provided funding for the NAP/SAP, is of the view that countries with a history of poor land use practices are extremely vulnerable to drought like conditions. “One hundred and fifty years of low technology agriculture like slash and burn, down slope tilting, absence of contouring and excessive land clearing has left indelible scars on the landscape, and has negatively influenced the lives of thousands of inhabitants. Exposed land is the most vulnerable to drought. Forest land and protected water sources stand a better chance at weathering drought conditions. We cannot prevent drought but we can mitigate the effects of drought.”
The NAP/SAP also has as one of its goals the provision of a comprehensive framework for implementing the country’s obligations under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
For more effective participation in and adoption of sustainable land management, Chief Forestry Officer, Michael Andrew emphasizes the need for partnerships between the public and private sector, and nongovernmental organizations. “Land degradation is largely due to limited knowledge or poor attitudes towards the management and utilization of land resources. As such, sustainable land management calls for public and private sector organizations, government, communities, corporate citizens and individuals to take action to manage land resources sustainably and correct negative impacts that may have been brought about by their actions.