Environment

Restoring the land - Japanese grant to help save farming in mined-out areas

Grant to build skill sets among farmers

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor at large, South Central Bureau myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, April 27, 2011    

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THE anecdote from Central Manchester Member of Parliament Peter Bunting humorously, but graphically captures the negative effect of bauxite mining on farm lands.

“A farmer once told me, ‘Mr Bunting, even though a get back the land to farm (after bauxite mining) now the land don’t have any gumminess’,” said the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) representative to spontaneous laughter.

But the mirth lasted only a few seconds as the audience, made up mostly of Manchester residents, contemplated the substance of the farmer’s statement.

They were gathered at the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) Gymnatorium recently to witness the signing ceremony and presentation of a cheque for US$103,407 from the Japanese Government to the university.

The money will go to the NCU’s Project for Sustainable Food Production on Mined-out Bauxite Lands in Manchester communities, located relatively close to the university in central and south Manchester.

The Japanese funds — pushed through despite the recent earthquake/tsunami and nuclear disaster said to be the worst crisis to hit Japan since World War II — will allow training for farmers in mined-out areas to develop expertise in greenhouse technology, micro-financing, business start-ups and land restoration.

Dr Vincent Wright, chair of the Department of Biology & Chemistry at NCU, who has oversight responsibility, told the gathering that 3,000-square-feet greenhouses will be erected at NCU, and in the communities of Richmond and the Manchester plateau.

The three greenhouses, he later told Environment Watch, will be for training and demonstration purposes as well for economic ends — producing vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet peppers and “perhaps even strawberries”.

NCU apart, the greenhouse projects will be operated as community enterprises. A building at the research station at NCU is to be refurbished for use as a farmers’ training centre.

A crucial element in training will be “sustainable agricultural practices” and “environmental stewardship” as farmers set about learning techniques to restore mined-out lands. About 500 people in the project areas are slated to benefit.

Wright said NCU had developed expertise from years of research on a five-acre plot at the campus in the production of compost (organic fertiliser), using materials such as animal manure, kitchen waste, grass cuttings and other organic waste.

“When we compare inorganic fertiliser with our organic fertiliser, we have actually gotten a higher yield with organic fertiliser as compared to inorganic,” boasted Wright.

Such techniques, it is hoped will help to gradually restore fertility to some of the approximately 500 acres of lands laid waste by bauxite mining in the project areas of south/central Manchester.

Bunting — who mused that perhaps national leaders of 50/60 years ago were not very “environmentally sensitive” when they agreed to allow bauxite companies to replace just six inches of top soil after mining — voiced the hope that soil restoration and hi-tech methods will help to change the “culture” and practice of farming.

That change, he said, was essential since the negative environmental consequences of bauxite mining will remain for “generations, hundreds of years”, rendering old farming methods unproductive.

Also, he pointed out, even if the bauxite/alumina industry — a longstanding pillar of Jamaica’s economy — recovers from the current slump caused by the global economic recession, mineable bauxite was fast running out.

And even when mothballed Jamaican mining/refining operations are reopened, they will yield far less in economic terms because of concessions that the current Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government has been forced to make to the multinational companies, he said.

“Even as we look at the prospect of reopening Kirkvine, it is difficult to balance the benefits of the employment... which is basically all we are going to be down to because of the concessions Government has had to give up on royalties and taxes to the companies,” said Bunting.

According to the Economic & Social Survey for 2009, foreign exchange inflows from bauxite alumina in 2009 fell 50.2 per cent to US$271.1 million.

President of NCU, Dr Herbert Thompson emphasised that research, such as was being done at the university, needed to be relevant to the people “at the workbench and the workplaces...”

In that respect, he suggested the university had a lead role to play in helping to lead communities out of the “trials and tribulations” during and after bauxite.

First Secretary TadahikoYamaguchi, who represented the Japanese Embassy at the function, urged project participants to “work hard, be determined and to stay focused” in the drive for “food security”.

Rural Area Development Agency parish development manager Desmond Robinson pledged the support of his organisation to the NCU project.

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