AN improvement in the socio-economic condition of several rural communities, a reduction in land slippage and greater crop yields are counted among the benefits of a recent Sustainable Land Management (SLM) project of the Forestry Department.
The project — undertaken through a series of demonstration initiatives and initiated more than three years ago — had its final stakeholders workshop more than a week ago when the impact on the participants as well as on Government policy was revealed.
Minister of Water, Land, Environment, and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill, speaking at the workshop held at the Terra Nova All Suites Hotel, said it is expected that the results of the demonstration projects will be replicated across the island.
This, he said, would contribute to better and more productive land management in Jamaica.
"I consider the SLM project to be important as it acknowledges Jamaica's land degradation issues, but more importantly, it provides the avenue through which the problem can be mitigated or managed," the minister said.
He noted that the objective of the project was to enhance effective sustainable land management by building capacities in appropriate Government and civil society institutions and user groups while mainstreaming SLM into Government planning and strategy development.
"The integrity of ecosystem functions and services, on which biodiversity, agricultural production and income-generating opportunities in rural Jamaica rely, are seriously affected by land degradation," he said, noting that the project will also impact the protection of watersheds and help bring about a reduction in natural disaster risks.
The highlight of the initiative, which forms a part of a larger global programme, is the restoration of a 200-year-old 20-foot tank in Lititz, St Elizabeth, to promote rainwater harvesting.
The restoration of two tanks and a catchment area in the vicinity is expected to directly impact the lives of more than 50 farmers and their families.
"It had not been cleaned in up to 20 years," said Constance Tyson-Young, the lead land degradation expert involved in the project. "We fixed the leaks and also covered the tanks to prevent accidents. Once it rains, it won't leak as fast as it used to. Also, the National Irrigation Commission will be working to supply the tanks with water so it won't be completely dependent on rainfall."
The project also saw the rehabilitation of bauxite mined pits in Mocho, Clarendon.
"The Forestry Department has been experimenting with fast-growing trees to restore the soil; to put in forest trees in the bauxite area and it has been successful so far," Tyson-Young said.
It also involved the re-vegetation of a limestone quarry by the Mines and Geology Division in Flankers, Montego Bay.
The upper Rio Minho Watershed was impacted through the establishment of agro-forestry plots. Soil erosion, flooding, river siltation, land slippage are also being addressed in that area.
Through the SLM project, a Government policy has also been formed as a part of the National Land Policy.
"It looks at areas where there is degradation, how you should mine, how to ensure that there is restoration of land and it also looks at limestone quarrying," Tyson-Young noted.
Land degradation in Jamaica is caused by deforestation, soil erosion by wind or water, weather or climatic conditions, pollution, drought conditions, unsustainable agricultural practices, bauxite mining and limestone quarrying, and the expansion of urban development.
The project was funded by the Global Environment Fund and the United Nations Development Programme.