During the first two weeks of January I had the pleasure of working again with our Carib friends on the island of Dominica. Carib people collectively own approximately 5 square miles of land along the northeast Atlantic coast of Dominica, in the eastern Caribbean. The Carib Territorys higher elevations extend into a rain forest, and a ridge divides the eastern coastal slopes from a lush valley and major river. With financial support from the New England BioLabs Foundation and technical assistance from Plenty, the Waitukubuli Karifuna Development Agency (WAIKADA) and Carib Council are working to increase community awareness of land use problems. Their goal is, through a process of community education and discussion, to develop and implement new land use agreements that will protect and improve management of important forest, water and farmland resources.
Carib people have traditionally agreed that land not occupied or used within their collectively-held territory (approximately 3,700 acres) is open for any resident family wanting to plant crops or build a house. Over the past 17 years the population has more than doubled to 3,600+ residents, while means of earning most family incomes have remained much the same. Carib people rely heavily on the production and sale of bananas and traditional crafts for cash to meet basic needs. Young men and women starting new families stake out areas of land where they build homes and plant crops. As the cost of living and population increase many people are forced to cut forests to plant gardens wherever possible.
Traditional land use practices have increased soil erosion problems and loss of stream water during dry seasons within major watershed areas. Over the past year, Carib Land Use Reform Initiative (CLURI) staff members Porshia Burton, Elvis Francis, Kent Auguiste and Veronica Tyson organized and completed a series of land use presentations and discussions with youth and adults in each of the Carib Territorys seven hamlets. Information and suggestions resulting from these community meetings are helping Carib Council representatives to develop new land use agreements for consideration by all residents of the collectively owned territory.
The first draft of an agreement that addresses two land use issues is to be completed and circulated for discussion and final community input during the first half of 2002. Of all issues that have been discussed during 2001, WAIKADA and Council representatives identified the following two major issues for which they want to first pursue new agreements.
1) Deforestation identification and agreement on sites within Carib lands that will become forest preserves, off limits to cutting; and
2) Uncultivated Family Lands identification of sites and agreement about methods of reallocating family lands that were once cleared for cultivation, but have been left fallow for five years or more.
Other important land use issues identified that require new agreements include:
- Creation of more easily identifiable boundaries between family lands. There are many small land disputes the Council has to address due to lack of clear boundaries.
- Disposal of petroleum based chemicals (herbicides, pesticides, paints and thinners, etc.) in areas where they leach into water systems. There is a need for greater awareness of the effects of dumping and facilities to deal with chemical waste.
- Tapping of gomier trees for sap. Gomier are hardwood trees, excellent for building traditional boats and other hardwood applications. The wood is valuable but difficult to cut and drag out of the hillsides. The problem is that many are dying because Caribs are being offered 5 Eastern Caribbean dollars a pound for the sap which provides a little quick and relatively easy money, but kills the trees.
- Soil erosion from hillside farming. Some have suggested that farmers be required to take more steps such as terracing and dividing tilled land with tree or bush breaks to stop or slow soil erosion on their hillside farmlands.
- Disposal of paper, metal, glass and plastic waste products. There are no designated sites within Carib lands to recycle or dispose of non-biodegradable waste products.
- Replacement of diminished family incomes, one result of a 30-40% decline in production of bananas. Development of new small businesses (food processing, ecotourism, craft production, etc) may require allocation of land sites and water supplies now used for other purposes.
Before leaving Dominica, several of our Carib friends asked me to please thank Plenty contributors, staff and volunteers for their solidarity and long-standing support. In 2002 Plenty will continue to assist the Carib people to identify and secure human and material resources to address land reclamation issues and improve computer technology skills.