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Assessing land degradation in Grenada


Raymond Baptiste, head of Grenada's Ministry of Agriculture's Land Use Department, said the Government knew back in the seventies that it had a problem with land degradation because "there was visual evidence of it."

But officials didn't know the nature, extent and severity of the problem. For small island developing states like Grenada, any loss of productive land can spell trouble for land and marine ecosystems, food security, livelihoods and incomes. 

Being able to back up anecdotal evidence of land degradation with scientific data is important in persuading decision-makers of the need for sustainable land management policy and legislation. It can also raise awareness, especially among farmers and land users, on the importance of adopting better practices to conserve Grenada's limited land resources.

In response to the Government of Grenada's request for technical support, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), through a Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project, helped develop national capacity on the application of land degradation assessment in drylands (LADA) methodology.

Land degradation drivers

Land degradation in Grenada, though moderate overall, is widespread, especially in the cropland systems. And the drivers are varied.

For one, the Caribbean state, comprising the islands of Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique, sits on the edge of a hurricane belt. Major hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 uprooted age-old trees and ravaged the country's nutmeg industry. The loss of vegetation accelerated run-off and led to more landslides, resulting in increased soil erosion and less productive lands. Vegetation removal for settlements and agriculture, overgrazing and drought also contribute to land degradation in Grenada.

Adding to the problem are insufficient soil and water conservation measures, especially drainage maintenance. Most land in Grenada is privately owned, and many land tenure agreements are informal. Those using the land under such arrangements often have little incentive to invest in soil conservation measures. A shortage of farm labour makes it difficult for some to keep up with traditional conservation practices.

Filling knowledge gaps

Grenada had just started carrying out its first sustainable land management project when it came across the LADA methodology during an FAO regional workshop in St. Lucia in 2009.

"While we were promoting the need to manage our land resources more effectively, we knew we couldn't keep telling our policy-makers that our land was threatened without showing them how it was at risk, what that meant for people economically and socially and where we needed to take action," said Dianne Roberts, former project manager for the sustainable land management project and team member of the LADA intervention.

"We needed to bring more evidence-based information to the table," she added.

Building capacity

LADA methodology uses such things as participatory rural appraisals, livelihood assessments, expert judgment, field measurements, remote sensing, GIS and modelling to evaluate degradation on vegetation, water and soils.

The TCP project, which began in 2011, assessed different land use systems, including abandoned and annual cropland, mangrove forests, pasture and grazing land, perennial cropland, protected areas, shrubs and grasslands, built-up areas and water in urban areas.

It created national land degradation maps for the islands of Grenada and Carriacou, adding a layer for data on protected areas for Grenada and one on pasture and grazing areas for Carriacou.

The project trained 20 technical staff to assess land degradation at local and national level, and organized a regional workshop.

"It was the first time the LADA methodology had been applied to a small island developing state, so the regional workshop allowed Grenada to share its experiences with other Caribbean countries facing similar land degradation problems," said Lystra Fletcher-Paul, an FAO land and water officer, previously with the subregional office for the Caribbean and now based in Trinidad and Tobago. "Trinidad and Tobago and Antigua and Barbuda have both expressed interest."

The project also supported the development of a teaching manual on LADA methodology for small island developing states by the University of the West Indies.

The Ministry of Agriculture's Land Use Division, which adopted the LADA methodology, has since set up a land degradation and drought monitoring network to conduct regular assessments.

Protecting resources for future generations

Changing policy is important. So is changing the attitudes and behaviours of those who use the land. One way is through field visits and farmer exchanges on good practices, something Baptiste, also the TCP's national project coordinator, hopes to do more of.

The TCP team had visited two adjacent farms following a major rainstorm, he said.

"One farm, run by a young farmer in his thirties, had a massive landslide and when I say massive, I mean huge," he said. "But the other farm, run by a farmer in his eighties, was intact, with very little evidence of soil erosion. Both farms had steep slopes. In fact, the well-managed farm was even steeper."

"We realized the older farmer had planted hedges across the slope at regular intervals, whereas the other guy basically had no conservation measures in place," he added.

He hopes such education efforts will also reach high school students because "the future of our land rests in their hands."

More initiatives

The TCP played a crucial role in galvanizing greater financial support for sustainable land management initiatives in the country.

Grenada is no longer thinking "just of addressing land degradation, but simultaneously taking steps to conserve biodiversity, reduce disaster risks and build resilience to climate change," said Roberts. "This holistic approach is important if we are to make any real progress in addressing land degradation.” 

The European Union has provided Grenada with USD 200,000 for a project to harvest rainwater, reforest degraded areas, rehabilitate gullies to stabilize sensitive areas and protect stream banks. It will also support development of a national land policy, something Baptiste said has "eluded Grenada for some time."

Thanks to data generated by the TCP, Grenada was one of 16 countries the only small island nation chosen to participate in a UNCCD global pilot project, supported by the Government of the Republic of Korea, that seeks to achieve land degradation neutrality.

In addition, a USD 260,000 Ridge to Reef project, funded by the Global Environment Facility, is set to get under way, focusing on soil conservation and water management, sustainable forest management and institutionalization of the monitoring network developed under the TCP project. And, with German funding, the Government will carry out soil and water conservation activities such as planting hedges to prevent soil erosion, creating new drainage systems and rehabilitating older ones and encouraging farmers to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

During the TCP project, Grenada identified severe land degradation in Bellevue South on Carriacou, stemming from overgrazing, neglect and poor overland water management.

"Bellevue South, which probably 50 years ago was perfectly fine, is almost like a desert," said Roberts. The Government will begin a pilot rehabilitation project, with the goal of mobilizing more funding to rehabilitate the entire area.

FAO's TCP projects are targeted, short-term catalytic projects that leverage FAO's technical expertise to address specific problems in agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural livelihoods among FAO Member countries, producing tangible and immediate results in a cost-effective manner.

The UN declared 2015 the International Year of Soils, promoting healthy soils for a healthy life.