Pinar del Rio Fights Desertification

HAVANA TIMES, July 10 (IPS) – The southern plain of the westernmost Cuban province of Pinar del Río, which is suffering from desertification and drought, is benefitting from a sustainable land management project.

Program coordinator Carmen Rosa Montano stated that actions began in three areas of the plain to rehabilitate the soil, and that these measures will extend in subsequent stages to the rest of the area damaged by land degradation processes.

The areas selected are in the municipalities of Sandino, Los Palacios and Consolacion del Sur, which are frequently hit by hurricanes and tropical storms.

Studies indicate that since 1900, Pinar del Rio has been battered by nearly 150 tropical tempests, most of them in the months of August, September and October. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike were the most recent, (August-September, 2009), and razed near 100,000 homes, schools, medical clinics, workplaces and agricultural crops in the area.

The coordinator explained that one of the plans to halt desertification is the eradication of exotic plant species, considered invaders, and the planting of native plants with the help of forestry specialists, as well as the use of organic fertilizers.

Among the project’s priorities, Montano highlighted, are the monitoring of droughts and the application of an advance storm-alert system involving experts from the Meteorological Forecasting Center.

The participation of the public in each place was said to be decisive in reversing damage, which is why training workshops are being organized in communities to take a look at how best to care of the flatlands.

Work is being done in the province to restore the fertility of its land, determined to be of the least productive in the country. The degradation of the land is the greatest ecological problem, especially the plains to the province’s south-west that are suffering from a desertification process.

The indiscriminate clearing of area vegetation for purposes of plant cultivation, such as tobacco has been cited as a cause for the situation. Studies indicate that this has also increased the salinity of the soil due to contact with groundwater and coastal aquifers, combined with the natural shortage of rainfall in the flats, since rain occurs mainly in the mountains.

The study covers an area in which the main agricultural producers of the province are concentrated, as are 177 of the 520 species of flora endemic to the province.

The actions undertaken in Pinar del Rio are reinforcing a national program to fight against desertification and drought, which also includes provinces in the east of the country, the program coordinator asserted.

The strategy integrates principles and priorities for action, along with the guidelines upheld in the International Convention of the Fight against Desertification and Drought.

Havana Times translation of excerpts from the IPS original report in Spanish