OECS Agriculture Economist warns of the effects of flooding following drought conditions

George Alcee, Agricultural Economist at the OECS Secretariat

Castries, St. Lucia (Sunday, April 11th, 2010): In light of the recent severe drought conditions in the Eastern Caribbean, farmers across the OECS and the wider Caribbean could well be smiling at the hint of returning rains, as indicated by experts and through visible developing overcast or rainy conditions across the region. However, as farmers and households anxiously wait to welcome the midyear downpour, they are being advised that the returning showers, if very heavy, could also bring problems such as landslides and other forms of land degradation.

Agricultural Economist at the OECS Secretariat George Alcee is therefore urging farmers and other stakeholders to employ proactive measures to ensure that heavy showers do not add to the challenges faced during the recent and unusual severe drought. The drought conditions were exacerbated by a plethora of bush fires reported across OECS Member States, which exposed the types and levels of denudation brought about as a result of weathering, human manipulation of water courses and changes in slope composition.

The Agricultural Economist warns that intense rain following such a severe drought would expose less stable slopes to the elements and increased incidents of landslides as a consequence. He says there are further concerns about the events of increased soil loss and run off which would lead to heavy siltation of river beds thus increased flooding, along with the associated loss of productivity and property among other repercussions: “We need to engage in mapping those areas prone to soil loss, landslides and flooding. This may be done through a simple mapping exercise of areas where these events have occurred in the past and of areas most likely to be affected with a given probability. This we need to do ahead of the rainy season so that we may be able to employ measures to mitigate or reduce to an economic threshold the hydro meteorological damages associated with such events.”

Alcee says farmers and others actively engaged in agricultural practices should be aware of the need to apply precautions to avoid destruction and loss to their livelihoods: “The recent drought has shown us clearly that water is one of the main limiting factors in agriculture production in the OECS and the wider Caribbean and I say recent drought because as we speak the light rains have started. In many islands the rainfall is insufficient to sustain year-round agricultural production, as many of our farmers are rain fed producers. The distribution is such that although sufficient quantities fall during the rainy season, which is from June to December, there is insufficient rainfall to maintain high production during the dry season. A shortfall in agriculture production has serious implications for food security and for farmers earning capacity.”

Landslide prone, dry and bush fire area

Alcee says the efficient harvesting of water during the rainy season would extend the growing season for most crops and allow farmers to obtain higher market prices for their produce during periods when supplies are low.

From August 2009 the OECS Agriculture sector registered very low rainfall and Alcee warns that a similar experience could reoccur. Hence, contingency measures are necessary such as the need for farmers to use adequate run-off collection systems for storage and for irrigation during the drier periods: “We need to begin to lessen the effects of drought. Every year we experience high rainfalls. We need to look at our systems of water storage because thousands of gallons of water are lost every year during high rainfall periods. In addition the water harvesting systems used are limited as farmers do not use an integrated approach to water harvesting to make the most efficient use of water in the production system. An integrated approach to water harvesting would allow farmers to better assess the capacity of their system and to design appropriate systems for their particular enterprise. Hence, the need to build awareness of the range of water harvesting systems which are currently used throughout the world and to build capacity in the use of locally available data for water harvesting systems planning, design and implementation.”

Alcee is confident that benefits of improved water harvesting systems are enormous:”Farmers would be able to improve their production levels by expanding their growing season and increasing productivity. Consequently, they would be able to obtain higher prices and, by extension, higher incomes. Farmers who use the potable water supply could also reduce the amount of money spent on irrigation as a result of the harvesting and use of run off water in the dry period.”-Alcee

The OECS Secretariat Agricultural Economist points out that water harvesting also conserves water, reduces water and soil loss especially during high rainfall events and generally promotes more efficient management of the resource. He is of the view that at the national level, increased production and an extended growing season would enhance food security, especially in rural households and contribute to the reduction of the food import bill.

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