Harvesting water, cultivating hope

UNDP, Jamaica 4H and Japan programme helping to boost food security in drought

Sunday, August 04, 2019

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In dozens of districts across Jamaica, students as young as six, unattached youth and prisoners are proving the power of rainwater harvesting to nurture large harvests of food in times of drought.

Rainwater harvesting a simple, time-proven method of climate change adaptation is now being tested and observed by students and teachers of 70 training institutions across the nation, as a result of a gift of water storage tanks, conveyance systems and drip irrigation hoses from the Japan Caribbean Climate Change Partnership (JCCCP) funded by the people of Japan. The project is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme Jamaica and the Jamaica 4H Clubs.

Participating training institutions include primary and high schools, Jamaica 4H centres and correctional centres, many located in rural communities.

Rainwater harvesting is a cost-effective way of storing scarce rainwater in order to combat the negative effects of drought on agricultural production, says the JCCCP's Eltha Brown. She noted that participating institutions were selected by the Jamaica 4H to demonstrate the efficiencies of this method based on needs but also the ability to serve as demonstration centres to disseminate the technology and know-how across the island, beyond the institutions that have participated directly.

Dr Ronald Blake, executive director of the Government-run Jamaica 4H Clubs, which co-implemented the project with UNDP, asserts: “This system is not a new concept, but what is great about it is that it's the first time we are allowing young Jamaicans, especially those likely to become future farmers and agriculturalists, [to use this technology]; they are playing with it, and working it and seeing it creating a difference. The project's work with young Jamaicans is setting up the future of the Jamaican agricultural sector in a great way.”

Already, the water harvesting gift has made an additional 65,800 gallons of water available to participating institutions and select communities on the front line of climate change, many located in rural communities, project reports indicate.

Trends indicate local farmers must contend with worsening drought due to climate change: Average annual rainfall was below the 30-year mean for most parishes, and there were 20 more incidents of normal drought and eight more incidences of severe drought than the previous year, Jamaica's Social and Economic Survey 2018 indicates.

Medina Primary School, in the hills of Manchester, one of the 70 participating institutions, once had to purchase water during the summer months, reveals Principal Delores Allen Palmer. Now, Medina's water capacity has increased to about 40 per cent based on the JCCCP-donated water harvesting system, she reports. With water now available, Medina Primary expanded its school garden. “We have put in cabbage, sweet peppers, cucumber, tomato, Irish potato, carrots, corns, bananas, and pumpkins,” says Alicia Patterson, Medina Primary senior teacher and 4H Club leader. Reeling off top harvest figures by heart, Patterson says so far, the school has reaped 1,000 pounds of sweet potato, 1,400 pounds of Irish potato, 500 pounds of sweet pepper, and 500 pounds of tomatoes.

Patterson says since the water harvesting and irrigation system, the harvest has increased, and as a result, “we have increased revenue by 90 per cent”. They pour the income back into lunches for students and their Jamaica 4H Club. “We sell much of our produce, sell to the school canteen, give students and teachers to take home, and make gift packages for visitors. The 4H club now has money for 4H uniforms, transportation for achievement day trips and other field trips.”

Just over a year ago, a vacant lot of land at Mount Peto Primary in Hanover was mostly a dumping ground featuring a few crops. In 2018, when the school was granted water harvesting infrastructure, parents got to work to clear the land. New crops were planted and flourished with the improved access to water. “The water harvesting equipment has impacted us in a major way. We are able now to collect and store more water on a consistent basis. I would say from about 50 to 60 per cent,” says Marvin Daley, the school's operations manager. “If it rains for three hours consistently from day one to day four then our tank would be full.”

Ophelia Foster Scott, Mount Peto 4H leader and guidance councillor, says: “Before we got this tank we struggled to get water to the farm. We would have crops dying, withered as a result of lack of water, but since we got the infrastructure ... we were able to put in some fruits, some peppers, some melons, some pumpkins, and as a result we have had water to sustain the entire farm.”

Pumpkins are sold to the school canteen and the income is used to fund the the breakfast feeding programme, she reports. “Without this infrastructure we would still be struggling. I have been here for 11 years and it's the first this year we have been reaping from this garden.”

Denbigh High in Clarendon receives less rainfall than the hilly parts of upper Clarendon. This has previously prevented the school from planting crops on its farm, explains Annette Chambers Brown, agricultural sciences teacher.

These days, they have been able to sow more vegetable varieties, like okra, pak choy, red peas, corn, scallion and string beans because of the water harvesting system. In the last school term, they reaped 25 per cent more string beans and pak choi, and 75 per cent more corn. “We are looking at significant increases in growth and production levels,” declares Chambers Brown.

But it is the impact on agricultural studies that is causing Chambers Brown to celebrate. Students of agriculture were previously challenged to complete their practical because this required observation of a working school farm a challenge, as persistent drought had made the farm non-productive. Now that they can observe a thriving school farm, they have seen a “100 per cent completion and submission rate for School Based Assessments (SBA) in the CSEC exams”, the teacher outlines.

Adrian Kanhai, agricultural sciences teacher at Denbigh High School, says as a fundamental part of the SBA, students are taught about water conservation. “We teach them that the drip irrigation is one of the most effective ways of conserving water. It lets the plants get the water directly at the roots so excessive wastage of water would be limited,” he says.

Anastacia Williams, a Grade 10 Denbigh High student, says “I've learned how important [water] is, especially our irrigation system. It's like our little helping hand when we are not able to be around, because with our busy schedules it's there to give our crops water and to ensure that our SBA can be completed when we don't have the time.”

Another Grade 10 student, Khalil Harris, also admits the water harvesting system helped him with his SBA. “When the moderator came, she asked us questions on the same topic like why do we water? We water to ensure the plants (can) carry out photosynthesis,” he said, answering his own question.

The impact on SBA performance and completion was also felt at Little London High School in Jamaica's westernmost parish, Westmoreland. Treshaunna Weise, the school's Integrated Science and Agriculture teacher and 4H leader, says the farm has helped students in all grades, especially grades 11 and 10. “They are now able to write better on [water and farming] getting the first-hand experience.”

Before the grant of the water harvesting system, Little London High had water problems. Now, Weise estimates an 80 per cent increase in water for use on the farm.

The access to water has also boosted the harvest. “So far for the year, we reaped 200 lbs of sweet pepper, and 1,000 lbs of chicken every three months for the past year,” Weise reports. “The water harvesting has been helping us because we don't have any water problem [now], so we are able to put in the chickens because we can give them the water they need.”

At the Jamaica 4H Centre in Clarendon, JCCCP partnered with a tractor and agriculture training programme for unattached youth, donating the water harvesting infrastructure and supporting the related component.

Roxanne Weise, programme instructor, says they have many trainees who are not interested in school work. “But when they came here they saw what the project did ... they now want to go into farming,” she explains.

Two young men, previously unattached, and now learning the rudiments of climate change adaptation in training, have positive words with an eye to the possibilities.

“This programme is basically a good programme for the youths who are not doing anything and are unemployed. They can come and get certified so at end of the day they can create a business for themselves,” says Ryan Chambers, 4H Centre trainee.

His colleague agree and adds, “We don't have a lot of young people getting into farming today, so we need to engage in this opportunity more, get involved... even on a part-time basis.”

The water harvesting demonstration in 70 institutional gardens is one component of the JCCCP project implemented in eight regional countries including Jamaica. The project also refurbished water harvesting and storage infrastructure in select rural communities, provided climate smart irrigation technology, training in climate smart agriculture, and supported the development of Jamaica's National Adaptation Plan.

A total of 101,732 people, including students, residents and teachers are benefiting from the water harvesting equipment and climate resilience training provided under the project.


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