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Keith Nichols
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GEORGETOWN, Guyana — A Caribbean climate change expert says mountainous countries in the region must pay attention to how farming practices contribute to landslides and other forms of soil loss during extreme weather events.

“Hurricane Tomas in 2010 was maybe one of the best experience of how not to do things,” Keith Nichols of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre said in an interview on Sunday after his presentation on climate change and its impact on Caribbean agriculture at Caribbean Week of Agriculture.

He said that to a large extent, the factors that contribute to soil loss during extreme weather events — such as storm and torrential rains — cannot be controlled.

“But in some cases, condition are exacerbated by our own practices,” Nichols, however, said.

He said that cultivation on steep hillsides can reduce the capacity of plants to hold the soil in place.

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“So, it is a case where we do manage our lands improperly. We contribute to the kind of disasters that we see, the kind of slope failure and so on.”

He said that much can be done to reduce the impact of extreme weather.

“A lot relates to how we use our slope lands in our respective countries.”

Nichols used the example of bananas — a major crop in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and St. Lucia — and said the fruit should be grown on flat lands.

“We grow crops everywhere, including very, very steep hillside,” he said, adding that with any change from natural condition to one that is managed agriculture, systems must be put in place to manage slope failures.

Nichols further said that terracing reduces water cascading off hillsides and eroding the soil.

Intercropping, he further said, is also an option.

“We don’t do it. We cut down the huge trees, we cut down everything in favour of bananas or pineapples or whatever it is and reduce the ability of the soil to remain in place,” he said.

“So, we will always end up with slope failures because of our conversion of the land from something that is stable, and just waiting for the proper event to cause it to slide down the slope.”

The interview with Nichols came after his presentation during a workshop on combatting the threat of pest outbreaks under climate variability and change.

The workshop forms part of Caribbean Week of Agriculture, which wraps up here on Saturday.

4 replies on “In mountainous Caribbean islands, farming practices increase risk of soil loss”

  1. Terracing is the solution to the problem that will also serve to retain water at the same time, especially in places where rainfall is sparce and irrigation is not an option? Intercropping and the planting of trees to help support the soil is usually done in conjunction with this.

  2. Why these ‘experts’ always talking what they think ‘sounds good’?. Where in mountainous SVG anyone ever heard of farmers in the mountains losing their crops to any landslide or had to run from a landslide?, never. Uncontrolled water in urban/developed areas with houses is what causes the slides or flooding and failure to clear the upstreams of fallen trees, as indicated by our forestry official, is what multilied the damages caused by Tomas in SVG. Farming never ever did any damage to any soil, maybe the ‘expert’ can tell us which country in the world he is taking examples from.

  3. Phillip C. Jackson says:

    we had some of the best terracing practices anywhere in the world. Our practices used to be the object of study by persons from many different countries – but there are less hoe men around. In general I think that farming should discouraged on slopes beyond a certain degree. On the issue of housing I think we have some very excellent builders in SVG putting up those houses on hillsides – these skills we can properly export 0 however care must be taken to manage run-off water.

  4. While driving to Washington many years ago, I saw gutters on the hill side and wondered why they were there. It took some years for me to realize that the folks use the gutters to protect the hillside by directing the downhill water flow through channels.
    Using this method can reduce landslides because water always takes the easiest route. It also helps to protect the soil from being washed away into the sea. It can also be much cheaper in the long run.

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