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Watershed management

Urgent implementation of watershed management and rehabilitation programmes in most small island countries is needed for sustainable development. On most small islands, distances between highlands and coastal areas tend to be short. Under such conditions, the role of forest ecosystems as regulators of water supplies for the island crop environment and soil formation and protection is especially critical. By extension, the sustainability of agricultural productivity and potential greatly depends on the regulatory functions of forests.

Protecting forests and trees is essential for warding off environmental degradation and rural poverty. The multiple goods and services available from forests offer many possibilities for off-farm employment and for economic diversification, with low capital input, for example through the integration of plantations with agricultural crops, in soil conservation and watershed management, as recreational areas, and as a source of subsistence.

In spite of the significance of forests and tree-based resources, present trends are not encouraging; forest resources continue to be poorly managed and not used rationally in many island countries. Deforestation occurs due to clearing for agriculture in areas not suitable for this purpose, culling for fuelwood, and urban and infrastructure development. Population growth and economic reforms pose new and increasing demands on the forestry sector. The result is accelerated loss of forest cover and of its associated benefits.

"Watershed Management and Conservation Education in Western Samoa"

This UNDP/FAO project (1992-95) looks at the inter-relation between the management of upstream and downstream areas within a given watershed. This has been shown through the implementation of soil conservation and watershed management measures such as conservation plantation, agroforestry practices, plantation of forest and fruit trees by farmers, conservation farming systems, extension and education programmes for different target groups. A monitoring system has also been developed to increase understanding of the impact of upstream management on water quantity and quality and other downstream values. The destruction of vegetative cover by frequent tropical cyclones has led to accelerated soil erosion and landslides, with a direct impact on the watersheds, agricultural production, water supplies, hydropower generation, lagoons and reefs. The rehabilitation of upstream areas and the participation of the local population in conservation of downstream areas an integral parts of the project. This will facilitate the conservation of flora and fauna and improve the socio-economic condition: of watershed dwellers.

Greening activities

Considering the limited land area and the islands' comparative fragility, the role of vegetation takes on particular importance. Some islands have no land suitable for agricultural activities and are confined to producing vegetables and growing fruit trees. The cover of low-lying islands is composed of mangroves and other plant associations, as well as exotic species. Demands for boats, construction material, rural housing, resort development and fuelwood have resulted in depletion of tree cover. This has affected the dynamic influence of ocean, coral reefs, land formations, and vegetation on each other.

Drought and desertification in some small island developing States renders afforestation difficult. In order not to interfere with endemic species and corresponding life systems by introducing exotic plants, it is preferable to use endemic species (bringing them in from nearby islands if local vegetation has been degraded) when undertaking forestry plantation and afforestation. Current water harvesting techniques, including soil manipulation devices aimed at concentrating rain water to better benefit planted seedlings, make plantation efforts in dry environments less uncertain than hitherto.

Further research is necessary for:

* improved knowledge of the original indigenous plant species and formations;

* selection and use of local species suitable for incorporation in soil and water conservation, range regeneration and fodder production, and fuelwood supply; and

* screening and eventual introduction of suitable non-indigenous species tried under similar conditions for use in all the activities mentioned above.

Greening activities should also include the identification, protection and proper management of natural formations.

"Development of Forest Resources in Cape Verde"

Within the national development framework, this project (1984-93) offered institutional support to the Government for the establishment and consolidation of an efficient forestry administration and the creation and management of enhanced forests and rangelands to promote rural development. These activities will contribute to combating, desertification, rehabilitate the environment through the reconstitution and conservation of the vegetative cover, establish integrated production system, contribute to the provision of wood for multiple uses (energy, construction, etc.), enhance socioeconomic welfare through the sustainable exploitation of forest resources, and transfer management responsibilities to a competent administration working within an adequate institutional framework. This project, completed in December 1993, should 'facilitate, inter alia, the finalization of the National Forest Action Plan, leading to better coordination in the planning and implementation of sector policies while promoting the participation of rural people in the preparation and management of the action plan.

Protected areas and biological diversity

Island bio-geography has led to a high endemism in terrestrial species, especially in larger islands (e.g. over 1,000 indigenous species in Fiji). All small island developing States are particularly vulnerable to the impact of introduced species and deleterious human action.

The physical characteristics, the biotic formations, and socio-economic situation of small island developing States determine the conditions and role of forestry in sustainable development. The implications of their small size, their isolation, and the nature of their forest resources define the available models and opportunities for forest development, and suggest the necessary precautions to be taken in any manipulation of plant and animal populations. The increasingly negative impacts on local economies and on the quality of the environment are already visible in many cases through shortage of water supply, soil erosion, increased sedimentation of rivers, estuaries and coastal areas, and coastal erosion. Deforestation and forest degradation have led to the extinction of many animal and plant species, causing irreversible loss of genetic resources and ecosystems. The establishment of protected areas, such as forest reserves, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, supported by botanical gardens, herbaria, etc, are essential for conservation of biological diversity in these countries. Those areas can become the basis for eco-tourism.

Marine ecosystems are prone to destruction of habitats and biodiversity. There are several causes of this, including: destruction of coral reefs (both deliberately by fishermen or tourists and indirectly by pollution, sedimentation, and land reclamation for building sites); conversion of mangroves and wetlands (resulting in loss of important nursery areas); the use of long driftnets (mostly impacting marine mammals, turtles, and non-targeted fish) by a growing number of foreign fishing vessels; and more generally over-fishing. Lack of monitoring makes it difficult to quantify the damage of such activities on marine life. Surveys are needed to identify representative habitats and ecosystems for the establishment of marine reserves and parks.

Plant genetic resources

Plant genetic resources are both the building blocks of all living matter, and the raw material for the fast growing plant breeding and biotechnology industries. According to recent studies, any region of the world is dependent on genetic material which originated in other regions for over 50 percent of its basic food production; and for small island developing States, it may be close to 100 percent.

The conservation (in situ and ex situ) as well as utilization and management of plant genetic resources require both financial and human resources that may not always be available in small island developing States. Cooperation between those States is therefore desirable in this area to safeguard these resources for future use. It is of particular interest for small countries to have access to genetic resources from other countries in the same agro-ecological zone. Means are needed for conservation and evaluation of existing basic plant genetic resources, and for capacity-building for evaluation of crop cultivars for practical farming. The latter because sustainable farming systems need access to crop cultivars with an optimal production potential, good resistance and quality characteristics, and adapted to local environments.

Much of the plant genetic diversity still in active use in developing countries is maintained by small farmer-breeders as part of their livelihood and personal use. FAO has developed, within its International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, the concept of Farmers Rights which recognizes the contribution of generations of rural people to domestication of wild species and their subsequent improvement through on-farm breeding. Farmers have thus conserved germplasm and made it available to societies and continue to do so. While it would be utopic for them to claim individual compensation, the concept form the basis of formal recognition and reward system to encourage and enhance the continued role of farmers and rural communities in the conservation and use of plant genetic resources. This aims at reconciling the view of the "technology rich" and the "gene rich" countries in order to ensure the availability of plant genetic resources within an equitable system.

"Improved Seed Production in the Caribbean"

Production of good quality seed is very limited in the Caribbean. With the exception of sugarcane, there is practically no germplasm information or exchange of species and variety performance among countries. In general, countries lack the infrastructure and technical skills to produce the required seed. Selected seeds (mainly vegetables) are imported, in most cases without any quality control or adaptation trials this results in frequent unsatisfactory germination and low yields. This project (1992-94) is developing a regional seed technology training programme and an international information exchange network on plant genetic resources availability, variety descriptions and variety trails. Field and laboratory standards are established for seed quality control for both sexual seed and vegetative planting materials, to facilitate active germplasm and variety exchange programmes among countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Surinam, and Trinidad and Tobago). Specific seed activities will be supported in selected countries. It is intended in a second phase to promote active germplasm exchange, seed production, and further development of seed technology.

The concept of Farmers Rights also provides the counterbalance to "formal" Intellectual Property Rights and Patents which compensate for the latest innovations (technologies and/or others) without giving enough consideration to the fact that in many cases, these innovations are only the last step of accumulative knowledge and innovations carried out through many generations over millennia in different parts of the world.

Small farmer-breeders are generally beyond the reach of the seed distribution infrastructure and maintain actively considerable genetic diversity. The Convention on Biological Diversity has left-out two outstanding issues: access to ex-situ collections and farmers rights. In order to address these issues, FAO has initiated a countries' negotiating process to revise the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources which would be presented to the Conference of the Parties on the Convention on Biological Diversity as a possible protocol.

During the late 1980s, FAO assisted the countries of the South Pacific region for collection, conservation, characterization and documentation of root and tuber crop germplasm. Currently most of the collections are held in the Dodo Creek Research Station, Honiara, Solomon Islands. In the coming biennium, FAO proposes to survey the Pacific region to evaluate the status of existing ex situ collections and to propose action to address any related problems and strengthen national capabilities for conservation and sustainable utilization of existing germplasm collections.

Managing risk due to natural hazards

Cyclones inevitably affect any programme dealing with sustainable agriculture and rural development. Early-warning systems and disaster preparedness, benefiting from the collaboration of several international organizations to minimize the impact of cyclones, are already under operation in many countries.

The effects of hurricanes and cyclones on forests and forestry plantations are a major constraint on sustainable forestry development in the Pacific, Indian Ocean and Caribbean islands.

Research and development into forestry and natural resource conservation and management are needed to mitigate the effects of strong winds and cyclones on these countries, in particular:

* salvage logging after windblow, including inventory, logging techniques and the storage of large quantities of logs before processing;

* selection of species and tree breeding through hybrids or other improved material of wind-firm trees;

* tree breeding strategies where trials or seed trees are liable to be destroyed; and

* management techniques especially related to reduction of damage through initial spacing, pruning and thinning.

There is thus a strong need to develop technology-transfer programmes to promote environmentally sound forest operations which take account of the special environmental risks associated with small island developing States.

"High Wind-resistant Trees"

In 1991, Cyclone Val destroyed about 60 percent of the vegetative cover in the Vaisigano watershed area in Samoa. The result was accelerated soil erosion and landslides, and increased surface run-off. Agricultural production, water supplies for consumption and hydropower generation, lagoons and reefs were all affected. As a quick rehabilitation -measure, the area has been planted with Albizzia species at the spacing of 10 x 5 metres to allow the regeneration of natural vegetative cover. This tree species was selected because of its resistance to high winds (even when badly damaged by cyclones. Albizzia revives), low-labour requirements (being a fast growing species, no maintenance is required after 1.5 years), capacity to improve soil fertility and ability for self-regeneration within 4-5 years (thus providing quick cover). In Fiji, the pine (Pinus Caribaea) forests are liable to exposure to storm or hurricane force winds at least twice during a pine rotation. Wind damage to the forests is often severe and occasionally devastating. Research over several years has aimed at improving crop stability in plantations. Achievements include the establishment of clonal seed orchards introducing a group of more windfirm coastal provenances of pines selected from survivors of hurricane force winds. Species trials have shown that several hardwood species have greater vigour and stability than P. caribaea and may be valuable as shelterbelts on very exposed sites.

Apart from the direct impact of cyclones on crop production, the major risk to agriculture is salt-water intrusion on both soil and freshwater resources. Strong storms can result in complete coverage of low-lying islands by waves, preventing subsequent growth of crops for many months due to residual salt. Most importantly, salt water contaminates the limited freshwater lense underlying atoll islands which is the only source of water for both drinking and agricultural purposes.

The gravity of salt-water intrusion into the freshwater lense would he exacerbated if the predicted sea-level rise materialises: lateral leakages would increase, lenses would become thinner, salt-water would reach water-pumps and wells, and the roots of tree crops such as coconut palms and breadfruit.

Agricultural insurance is available for weather damage and the basic requirements for this are well documented in FAO. The Organization is in a good position to provide advice on the management of the attendant risks, particularly adverse weather events, such as cyclones.

"Banana Insurance in the Windward Islands"

Bananas are the principal export crop of the Windward Islands (St. Lucia, Dominica, Grenada, St Vincent). The crop is vulnerable to excessive winds. Individual growers, (totalling some 25,000) who export through the group marketing scheme, WINBAN, are compulsorily covered under an insurance scheme run essentially on commercial lines, and embracing all four island nations of the Windward Group. The premium rate charged is actuarially determined and is currently approximately 13 percent of the sum insured. The scheme is entirely funded by the premium income. Given the catastrophic nature of hurricanes and the possibility of massive losses, reinsurance is arranged by WINCROP on the international market. Loss assessment is carried out by WINCROP staff, assisted by on-call assessors, as required. Records for the entire operation are computerised, which means that loss assessors are provided with a computer printout giving details of each banana operation - area, past production, past loss assessment - a key to enabling this scheme to run efficiently, without subsidy.

4. Rural energy resources

People living on small islands frequently face difficulties in maintaining a basic standard of living; isolation, high transportation costs, limited markets for services and goods and the lack of indigenous resources are factors that affect every aspect of life. Most marketed goods are expensive or difficult to obtain, not least a reliable energy supply or domestic fuel.

In most islands, the better-off people enjoy the range of household or industrial facilities common to cities and towns everywhere. Urban communities on most islands depend upon a municipal electricity supply. Power is normally generated centrally from oil or gas delivered to the island and, increasingly, from indigenous resources such as agricultural residues.

Renewable sources of energy are sometimes available, including geothermal sources, wind generators and hydro-electric turbines, but they are relatively limited compared to conventional generation (usually the internal combustion engine), mainly because the costs of exploitation and use normally makes them uneconomical compared to imported fuels.

Notwithstanding the dependency that this implies, and the need to obtain foreign currency with which to purchase oil or gas, there are significant advantages to utilizing commercial sources of power and equipment. Liquid or gas fuels are versatile and compact, and the range of services and equipment available with which to use them is extensive, at least for urban dwellers.

Providing electricity to rural communities is, however, costly and this may offer opportunities for developing renewable sources of power. Currently, the range of equipment and services for using alternative energy resources is limited, often expensive and sometimes difficult to obtain. Moreover, much of the equipment is site-specific, for example, wind powered equipment.

Government policies can encourage the introduction of renewable sources of energy. This has been the case with wind-generators in Denmark during the past 20 years. The use of renewable sources of energy, though sometimes expensive in terms of direct costs, can be more easy to justify on environmental grounds.

Agricultural and forest biomass is the oldest form of fuel and remains the most common one for rural and urban households the world over, whether for heating and cooking or for cottage industries. Fuelwood sometimes constitutes an important source of income for those living around forest areas. For densely populated islands, exploitation of wood for fuel is no longer a viable option and dependence on imported fuels has generally been on the increase.

Wood for energy can be grown in plantations or woodlots, or derived from sustained management of forest woodland, agroforestry or trees outside the forest. This constitutes an important potential source of fuel compatible with conservation of the environment and is complementary to other important functions of forests and trees and associated housing areas. Bagasse as a feed for ruminants is well-documented and sometimes widely used. Household cooking stoves fuelled by rice husks have been developed and are popular in South East Asia, but rarely seen in other rice-growing areas.

In many small island developing States, animal traction has an extremely important role to play as a source of energy. In the Dominican Republic, La Romana Sugar Estate, one of the biggest sugar factories in the world, has kept up to 18,000 oxen for transporting its sugarcane to the factory. Another increasing contribution of animals to energy production comes from biogas. New simple biodigesters made of PVC plastic sheets are now used in various tropical countries to produce cheap energy for use in kitchens.

The role of FAO, and the other international agencies, in the field of energy resources for island developing States depends in the first place on requests from governments for assistance. Such requests are few, perhaps due to the aggressive policies of the commercial power generation industry, particularly for petroleum. Renewable power generation industries also exist, but they are smaller and their capacity to influence policy is limited.

There is scope for providing information, contacts, companies, case-studies, etc. to enable people to compare and contrast experiences, and to obtain technical and commercial information. FAO can also assist with the preparation and execution of projects which focus upon energy supplies. These can cover a wide variety of activities, from fuelwood plantations to solar-powered telecommunications or cold-storage for food or medicines. Macro-planning at national level, to assist governments (and the private sector), to determine longer-term strategic energy supplies is well within FAO's technical resources. However, so long as price is the sole criterion in determining energy supplies and environmental costs are not included in price calculations, alternative, renewable resources are unlikely to gain a larger share of the energy market.

"Bio-energy from Agricultural Residues"

A large number of small island developing States, mainly in the Caribbean and the Pacific, are major sugar producers and this agro-industrial activity remain their main source of income. Sugar mills are large consumers of energy and have long burnt sugarcane bagasse to generate the electricity and heat required in the production process. Depending on the efficiency of the system, normally directly related to the age of the plant, these mills can be self-sufficient in energy terms, and can even produce extra power to feed to the electricity grid. The amount of bagasse produced usually far surpasses the requirements of the mills, and in many cases, the disposal of bagasse is a major environmental problem. Many island States have embarked on a process of modernizing their sugar mills in order to improve their economic operation. Among the changes being introduced are better combustion and larger power generation systems. The potential of these bioenergy resources is considerable. Production of ethanol as fuel, of animal feed and of fibre are among the potential uses and this could open new economic and employment opportunities to small island developing States. Nevertheless, technical and legislative measures need to be developed and implemented to overcome barriers to the full use of the energy potential of these biomass resources. In many countries, legislation still does not permit power generation and especially power feeding into the national grid by institutions outside the traditional power sector. Environmental policies will undoubtedly point towards the promotion of such schemes. With moderate inputs and suitable management, existing varieties of sugarcane produce reasonable yields in marginal lands opening up new energy and environmental opportunities. FAO organized in 1993 an Expert Consultation on Biofuels for Development and plans to expand its activities in this: field through global and national studies. Biomass resources can contribute to raising incomes in the agricultural sector, and to the achievement of stable and self-sustainable energy systems.


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