Water is Life : Empowering St. Elizabeth Farmers

Howard Simpson
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Raccio/UNDP Jamaica [Mr. Howard Simpson, farmer from Lititz community, describing the function and the problems of the catchment tanks in Lititz, St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica. March 15, 2012.]

The Lititz community in the south eastern plains of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica has a historical pattern of relatively low rainfall with an annual average of 1285mm. Water is a scare resource in this area and the frequent drought affecting this part of the island impacts the residents as they depend on water for irrigating their crops and sustaining the lives of their families.


As a result, rainwater harvesting is of critical importance to the livelihood of the residents. Joy Burke, Howard Simpson and Winston Robinson are among the farmers living in Lititz who must cope with the challenges of farming with water shortages every day. "Many times the farmers suffer for water; we lose a lot of crops because of drought. We don't have water so we have to depend on rainfall. Water is life," stress Joy and Howard.


The inability to harness water for agricultural and domestic purposes has resulted in some farmers abandoning their farms while others resort to the cutting down trees for charcoal production to supplement their income. These practices have negative impacts on both the community and the environment on a whole.


The National Irrigation Commission Limited (NIC), a local partner of UNDP, has addressed the water shortage issues affecting Joy, Howard, Winston and the community of Lititz, by initiating a project which aims to resuscitate the 6 million gallon capacity rain water catchment tank previously built by missionaries. The tank stores water and will help the farmers to better irrigate the two (2) hectares of vegetables they grow.


The project, titled Small-Scale Irrigation System supported by Rainwater Harvesting, was designed not only to rehabilitate the rainwater harvesting system but also to provide the community with a drip irrigation system powered by solar power. Training sessions and on-farm demonstrations were organized for the farmers to increase the awareness of land degradation and desertification issues as well as to introduce them to better agricultural practices aimed at the improvement of the crop's productivity, efficient use of water and the reduction of soil loss.


"This will have a big impact on the life of the community and the farmersstates Joy


"As long as we have water and the rain harvesting system going on alright everybody will benefit - myself and other community members will. We can have a nice crop and the community can be better than how it was before," Howard adds.


This initiative has equipped  the farmers with the knowledge needed to work their land today, and ensure that the soil and limited water supplies are used efficiently so that they can also benefit future generations. It is a good example of  key concepts  at the core of sustainable land management.


The intervention has benefited not only the farmers living in Lititz but also approximately 300 farmers from the surrounding communities of Savannah, Gaze Land, Downes and Stephen's Run, who are also able to access water from the rennovated tank. 


The Small-Scale Irrigation System supported by Rainwater Harvesting project was implemented by the PMO of RADA under the guidance of the project's technical team comprising RADA, the Jamaica Agricultural Society, the PMO and the Forestry Department. Activities undertaken included clearing of site, restoration of the catchment tank to prevent leakages, erection of a small-scale drip system, training of a total of 30 farmers through seminars and on-farm demonstration activities throughout the project period.


The Small-Scale Irrigation System supported by Rainwater Harvesting project was one of the components of a wider project titled Capacity Building for Sustainable Land Management in Jamaica to address Land Degradation in Jamaica. This project with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), was executed by UNDP, and implemented by the Forestry Department on behalf of the Government of Jamaica.

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