Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project

Hard to believe, but this bubbling brook is 10 minutes away from my home. It is easy to access and is pristine. Why? Because of the likes of Akilah Jaramogi who is the driving force behind the Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project. Fondes Amandes is a surburban area in St Anns, Trinidad and it is my home. Hilly terrain, it perches within the undulating Northern Range and, like most of the mountain ranges in Trinidad, is vulnerable to bush fires.
It is a difficult image to reconcile with the one above, but in the height of the dry season many of the valleys are smoke shrouded as the hills burn in the distance. When Tacuma and Akilah Jaramogi moved to the region in the 1970's to plant shortcrops on the hillside owned by WASA, annual fires were a serious problem. This was compounded by outsiders or "day-trippers" who would come to swim in the river and leave rubbish in their wake. Often fires would be started by a casually discarded cigarette. The late Tacuma had some forestry experience and began replanting fruit and hardwood trees. By involving the surrounding residents, a distinct community identity began to emerge as the couple took the initiative to change the cyclical pattern of fires and stop the destruction of the watershed.
Wikepedia defines a watershed as the area of land where all of the water drains to the same place – this includes water that flows on the surface and water located underground.
Without it, eventually all native flora and fauna disappear and the result is smoking barren peaks in the dry season, and substantial flooding in the rainy season.

Image courtesy Lum Lock, A and T. Geoghegan. 2006. Rewarding community efforts to protect watersheds: Case Study of Fondes Amandes, St Ann's. Trinidad and Tobago. Canari Who Pays for Water Project Document no.3.35pp.

A concerned parliamentary representative took an interest and put his support behind the fledgling effort. This combined with the sponsorship of responsible corporate citizens allowed for the development of an extraordinary and unprecedented project that has saved the life of one forest.

As early as 1991, The Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project caught the attention of both local and regional environmentalists, and, through the intervention of the Tropical Re-Leaf Foundation, the then- Chairman of WASA planted a ceremonial tree to signify his approval for the utilization of Fondes Amandes reservoir land that would be incorporated into the project. At the time, it seemed like a win-win situation for both WASA and the residents. Today it has evolved into something much greater than either party anticipated. The new prototype is remarkable on the most basic level because of its self sufficiency. Maintaining the watershed becomes beneficial to both WASA and the community and provides jobs as well as intangibles such as close community spirit.

Best of all there has not been a forest fire since the early 1990s.

One of the most stark examples that I have ever seen of a devastated watershed was years ago, when flying over Hispanola and making the transition from the Dominican Republic into Haiti, the emerald carpet that was the Dominican Republic forest came to an abrupt halt; the border demarcated with an ugly line of bare, scorched earth. With the perspective that comes from height, the results of slash and burn farming hit home.
Akilah, a mother of five. has been relentless in her pursuit of preserving the environment and has been crucial in corralling the resources of the community around her, spreading the message of respect for the land on which we live.
The main thrust is the replanting and the project now encompasses some 90 acres. It is not gently undulating land, it is steep.
It is 7.30am on Sunday morning and I am meeting members of the Maraval Rotary Club who have identified the project as a recipient of their community work. They have purchased some 30 odd mixed trees and are here to plant them. As they head up the path, it is obvious the level of work that has gone into managing this resource. Many of the trees are now fully re-established and the undergrowth is returning.

Today we are planting a mixture of pommerac, cashew, magumbo (a tall, forest tree with a velvet-y bean that Akilah uses in her jewellry) and flamboyants. I learn the members of the pea family (eg, pigeon peas and flamboyant, all identifiable with their small, distinctive leaves), are nitrogen producers and help return this crucial compound to the earth.
Johnny Stollmeyer is a key part of Akilah's team and is here helping this morning. Most of the trees are propogated on site and occasionally visiting schools and other charitable agencies donate trees.

Tree planting and fire trace cutting community gayaps have been held annually in support of the reforestation programme.

Certainly I blog about my garden, but so often I am reminded that it is not always about ornamentals. What Akilah has been able to do is beyond amazing. 90 acres of happy forest filled with birds, squirrels, agoutis, iguanas, hummingbirds and lots of clean, pure water.
It is a privilege to have her as a neighbour.