After the dry spell, paper warns of climate swings

Sharp changes in St Helena’s climate are having an increasing impact on food crops on the island.

The draft agriculture paper, Growing Forward, warns that swings in the weather could have several effects. They include:

  • lower soil fertility
  • more soil erosion
  • a rise in some pests and diseases
  • decline in wildlife habitat
  • poorer water quality

The threat comes from climate variability, meaning short-term changes in weather such as the recent severe dry spell, which led to a hosepipe ban.

The Growing Forward paper says its impact could be greater than climate change, which refers to changes that take place over decades and centuries.

It calls for research on climate swings and their impact, to allow farmers to adapt their systems for raising crops and livestock, as well as improving soil and conserving water.

But it also says they could allow farmers to try “new production and varieties”.

The paper also says farming on St Helena must have minimal negative impact on the local environment – including its human heritage.

It says that good pasture management has actually enhanced habitat for the island’s critically endangered wirebird, though a report for leisure developer Shelco found breeding ground had been lost through poor land control.

A firm policy to deal with invasive species is part of the environmental strategy put forward.

It also says people who lease Crown land must not let it be degraded and must keep invasive weeds at bay – with effective enforcement measures to make sure they do.

Biosecurity also needs to be stepped up to stop unwanted species and diseases coming to the island, backed up by new laws.

Other proposed measures including tighter controls on hazardous chemicals, maintaining field boundaries, improving the appearance of fields and farmyards, identifying wildlife habitats, protecting historic features in the landscape, and training people in eco-friendly farming practice – which could bring financial benefits to the island.

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