Saturday, June 28, 2008

Burning Saint Lucia's Rain Forests and Hills for Charcoal

Here is a excellent photo I took as I was heading up a valley hill for a site visit to Anse La Verdue to visit one of the rabbit project sites. You can see the charcoal making pit here, notice how much of the surrounding vegetation was stripped to make this charcoal.

With the downturn of the economy and escalating food prices people are turning back to stripping the rain forest and valleys of Saint Lucia for small trees and brush to create charcoal. The charcoal is used for home cooking and is extremely popular for barbecuing and use with traditional coal pot cooking.

A good Charcoal burn can earn someone 1200-1500 EC. Compare that to working 6 days a week at one of the resorts where your take home pay is only 1300-1500 EC a month and you can see why this can be a lucrative alternative income. Ladera Resort would be an exception to this with them treating and paying their employees well, in fact Ladera employs Saint Lucian's in top management positions, an example I wish other resorts would follow more often.

Here you can see Mango season in in full effect with delicious mangoes dropping to the ground to rot.

A view of the Charcoal burning pits from the other side of the valley.

Long term the effects of stripping the rain forest and hills of trees and low laying vegetation is increased flooding, landslides and erosion. The other effect in this stripping is the removal of a natural filtration system for the rain. Most villages take their water supplies directly from the waterfalls. The dense forest material acts as a natural filtration system removing pollution and other elements. To make matters worse the rain is picking up the charcoal residue from the pits and clearings adding that to the drinking water. Playing the devils advocate, charcoal is commonly used for filtration so whether this is harmful to the drinking water is unknown.

I have noticed a DRAMATIC increase in the charcoal burning since the oil and food prices has skyrocketed. If you drive from the capitol Castries down the west side of the island to Soufriere you will see some of the burning pits are next to the road, I know of six that can be seen.

We also have charcoal burning happening in the Canaries Rain Forest now, typically a one acre area is cut down and stripped to the bare earth with the large and small trees and brushwood being burnt slowly in smoldering dirt pits for charcoal. Afterwards dasheen/taro is planted for two seasons until the soil is stripped of its minerals and the rain forest grows back recapturing the land until it is stripped again. It used to only occur in a few instances but not I can count at least 8 new areas where this is happening in Canaries Rain Forest valley.

Here is a shot in the rain forest of an area cleared for charcoal and dasheen/taro planting.

A good shot facing into the rain forest hill.

Here is another area that has been stripped, you can see the charcoal pit below.

Take notice of the bags of charcoal ready to be picked up to be sold in the villages and Castries.

A pristine shot of the rain forest as a reminder of the precious resource that it is.

I am neutral on judging anyone on this, I just want to show the reality of what is happening.

It all goes back to economics.


Cuadrado said...

I am conducting some research on charcoal producers and the charcoal business in 2009. Your work is very valuable in examination of the trend and documentation of the impacts of charcoal production in St. Lucia.

Big Country (Leo) said...

Thanks Caudrado for letting me know this was useful, it makes me feel good. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

thank for this peice of info it helped me lots