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In mountainous Caribbean islands, farming practices increase risk of soil loss

Published in Kaieteur News, 8 Oct 2013

October 7, 2013

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 largeextent, 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.

"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.