Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

The cascading effects of tree logging in the Caribbean


Climate Change and Global Warming are having a major impact on the Caribbean islands. The logging of trees in its forests, the slash and burn method of agriculture, landslides, bush fires, receding fish stocks, rising sea levels and chaotic weather, only appear to be isolated incidents; however they all share a cause and effect relation and have a cascading effect on one another.

The landscape in the Caribbean, mostly alternates between high mountains and deep gorges. Pover, a 54 year old trade unionist and a social and political activist, sees human activity on the nation’s forests and beaches as an active component that is fuelling the incidence of climate change. “… it’s like a cancer eating [us] from the inside,” he explains. The problem is that many people clear large swaths of land, using the slash and burn method, so as to illegally farm marijuana.

In the past couple of years, with the twin problems of global warming and climate change making their presence felt, people in St. Vincent and in the Grenadines, are feeling the devastating impact of out-of-sight-activities in the forest, in the coastal regions and residential areas.

Since 2010, extreme weather has left come, battered and left a bill of damages for $222 million, which is almost 60% of its GDP. Hurricane Tomas, not only made 1200 people scramble into emergency shelters, but created $24 million in damages, destroyed cash crops in farmlands and wiped out 98% of the country’s plantain and banana trees. 

In 2011, heavy rains, caused rivers to overflow their banks, with the result 60 houses got damaged and there were huge landslides on St. Vincent’s north-east coast. The raging waters deposited a large number of logs in the town which did massive damages to civic structures and houses. In the dry season, extreme weather in the form of unseasonal rain triggered landslides causing $32million in damages.

Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister  took it seriously saying, “We have to pay attention to what is happening in the forest. If we are seeing these logs in the lower end, you can imagine the damage in the upper end. And if those logs are not cleared, and if we don’t deal properly with the river defences in the upper areas of the river, we have a time bomb, a ticking time bomb, because when the rains come again heavily, they will simply wash down what is in the pipeline, so to speak, in addition to new material that is to come.”

In the upper regions, forests are still being cleared to create marijuana farmlands. In some instances, upto 10 acres of forest land has been cleared at 3000 feet above sea level to cultivate marijuana. “Some of them may cultivate using a method that is compatible, whereby they may leave trees in strategic areas to help to hold the soil together and attract rain,” said Pover. He went on to explain, “Other will just clear everything, as much as five to ten acres at one time for marijuana.”

Farmers who legally grow produce, also follow the same methods which makes the soil more susceptible to erosion. Most farmers use the slash and burn methods, which purges the soil of its nutrients and loosens it. Since the soil has been depleted of its nutrients, the farmer will have to utilise more fertilisers, which again increases the cost of production.

The problem is “When they realise that it is costing them more for input, they will abandon those lands. In abandoning these lands, these lands being left bare, you have erosion taking place. You may have gully erosion, landslides,” says Poyer. Reforestation can not only be difficult but it is more expensive as well. 

“Sometimes we will have to put in check dams to try to reduce the erosion and allow it to come under vegetation naturally and hope and pray that in two years when it begins to come under vegetation that someone doesn’t do the very same thing that had happened two years prior,” explained Pover.

With climate change severely affecting the Caribbean, the region has increasingly seen instances of longer dry spells and drought. Currently, some countries are facing a shortage of drinking water. The rains are also a month late. Given the vegetation on St. Vincent and Grenadier’s coastline, the intense dryness caused by heat in July, is likely to create bushfires. Isaiah Browne, the country’s fire chief and Superintendent of Police, said that instances of bush fires have significantly increased compared to the previous year.

So as to avoid bushfires in these areas, some people have cleared the land for agricultural, housing and for other developments, with the result aquatic life has been affected. “That is why sometimes we hardly see any fish along the coastline, because there are no trees to cool the water for the algae to get food,” explains Pover. The Deputy Executive Director of the Caribbean Region Fishes Mechanism, Susan Singh-Renton also echoed the same thoughts. She explained that with the rise of the temperature in the Caribbean seas, fish which are an important source of protein for the region, are likely to move northward.

There have been direct evidence of clearing of forests linked bushfires and to landslides. Kennard King, a community activist, explained, “The three specific areas in Rose Bank where landslides occurred in in the 2013 floods were three of the areas where fires were always being lit. It did affect the soil because as the bush was being burnt out, the soil did get loose, so that when the flood came, those areas were the areas that had the landslide.” Mr. Kennard King is also the president of the Rose Bank Development Association. 

Pover went on to add “The drying out of streams in the dry season is also a result of what is taking place in the hills, in the middle basin and along the stream banks. Once you remove the vegetation, then you open it up to the sun and the elements that will draw out a lot of the water, causing it to vaporise and some of the rivers become seasonal.”

So as to protect its coastal communities and relocate them when necessary, Grenadines and St. Vincent is forced to spend millions of dollars. Rising sea levels and increasing storms are certainly not making it any easier for them. Stina Herberg, who arrived at St. Vincent in 2007, and is now the principal of Richmond Vale Academy, said “Since I came here in 2007, I have seen a very big part of our coastline disappear. … The road used to go along the beach, but at a point we had really bad weather and that whole road disappeared. So we got like five metres knocked off our beach. So that was a first warning sign.” 

She goes on to say, “We had trough system on the 24th December 2013, and that took a big bite out of our football field. Maybe 10 per cent, 15 per cent of that football field was just gone in the trough system. … We have been observing this, starting to plant tree, getting more climate conscious, living the disasters through.”

Recently, the academy has joined the Police Cooperative Credit Union in planting more than 100 trees on Richmond beach. She feels planting the trees will “… prevent erosion, they will look more beautiful, they will motivate and mobilise people that they can see yes we can do something.”