The Mabouya River Valley in the Fond D’Or watershed of eastern St Lucia is the agricultural heartland of the region. The valley, home to 11 communities, is characteristic of the scenic rural landscape of the country: a dwindling commodity in this increasingly popular tourist destination. The local population of around 7500 depends on the valley not only for food and water, but also for thousands of jobs provided by small farms. The Mabouya Valley has a history of environmental degradation, but no single issue is more prevalent and destructive than deforestation. From 1989 to 2003, the EU funded the Mabouya Valley Development Project which helped local farmers address problems such as solid and liquid waste management, unplanned development, and deforestation. But deforestation caused by riverbank erosion continues to threaten the livelihoods of communities in the valley.
Due to poor agricultural practices upstream, rich valley topsoil washes into the river during flash floods. These floods have increased with the onset of global climate change. This run off not only denudes the valley of its most valuable resource, fertile soil, but also adversely impacts drinking water which must be filtered. In the dry season, the silt causes water shortages since there is inadequate pressure in the water catchments to pump water to highland communities. Fertilizer contamination from the runoff decreases the biodiversity of river and coastal ecosystems, and invasive plants, pests, and diseases threaten economic productivity and public health.
Our 10-week project, beginning in early June 2009, will educate the local community, youth groups, and farmers about the effects of deforestation and the community’s role in advocacy and action. By engaging youth in workshops, we will recruit 10 volunteers to help us plant over 1000 trees as well as elephant grass to stabilize the riverbanks. We will educate, motivate, and inspire the participants about the global effects of climate change and give them practical skills necessary to take action at the local level. Through the project, we will help sustain the livelihoods of the farmers and wider community in the valley by protecting the soil and planting species that will benefit the local economy. In addition to mahogany tress and elephant grass, we will plant tree crops including mango, avocado, breadfruit, and citrus. The Ministry of Forestry recommends these species because of their adaptability, speed of growth, and value as food and fuel. The Ministry has granted us permission to work within the 30-foot setback along the river. Our goal is to restore and protect four miles of riverbank in the center of the valley. These trees and the elephant grass will stabilize the soil along riverbanks, prevent runoff, and improve water quality. Once the trees mature, they will also serve as a windbreak protecting the banana plantations in the valley. Bananas are the chief export commodity of St Lucia and the principal source of income for valley residents. Our project is consistent with the objectives of the project Integrating Watershed and Coastal Areas Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States; a primary goal of this coalition is to improve watershed and coastal-zone management practices.
To record our work, the Ministry will create a short documentary so that the project can be used as a model and catalyst for other parts of St Lucia and the Caribbean. By allowing people who live alongside each other to develop a shared sense of ownership, this project will cultivate trust between neighbors bringing about a mindset preparing for peace, instead of war. It will create food security and economic stability; alleviate poverty, and raise health standards. This is a full-circle project bridging social, economic, and environmental gaps. Our project exemplifies practical activism in solving global problems. It converts big issues such as climate change and food security into workable, practical solutions such as planting trees.
In Summer 1999, Neil worked with 15 youths who embarked on a river stabilization project coordinated by the Mabouya Valley Development Project and Ministry of Forestry. Neil’s knowledge of the watershed and the problems caused by unstable riverbanks will be invaluable throughout the project. At College of the Atlantic he studies green business and international politics. Zimmerman brings practical skills in agriculture and ecological farming practices, a major focus of his academic work. He has worked extensively in the Caribbean and is currently examining how farmers can close energy and matter cycles of food systems. Both Zimmerman and Neil are graduates of Simon Bolivar UWC of Agriculture. Andrew, a graduate of UWC-USA in New Mexico where he headed the community forest service, is pursuing a career in landscape architecture and planning. Andrew is our planner: his work with GIS mapping and landscape design will be invaluable in the practical stages of the project. By integrating our distinctive skills, we form a team that will give life to Kathryn Davis’ vision of bringing peace to the world through grassroots projects.