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Appendix A: The Morne Panache pilot project area: a socio-economic and agronomic overview

The Project area included the residential communities of Thomazo, Grand Riviere, Morne Panache, and Dubonnaire. Even though communities had retained their separate names, they had become linked over time by roads, paths, and the spread of residences into a single settlement commonly referred to as Grand Riviere.

An estimated 1,800 to 2,000 persons - 18 to 20 percent of the total population of the Dennery Quarter - lived within the boundaries of the Project area at the commencement of Project activities. A household survey conducted as part of the preparatory work for the Project revealed that nearly three-quarters of the respondents were employed principally in farming on their own account. Retired or unemployed persons made up 6.8 percent of the population, and the rest worked either as hired farm labourers (5.7 percent) or as public employees (1.8 percent).

A.1 Social Amenities

Area housing could be described as substandard. Aside from a few modern concrete residences, most of the houses were small, crude, dilapidated structures perched on slanting poles. Most were of wooden construction and consisted of a common room, one bedroom, and a detached kitchen.

Saint Lucia Electricity Services supplied energy to the area. With 29 connections at Thomazo, 52 at Grand Riviere along the East Coast Highway, 23 at Morne Panache, and 10 at Dubonnaire, only a third of the houses in the area were connected to the central power lines.

There was no post office, community centre, or marketplace within the Project area. A small playing field was located near the junction of the Morne Panache, Dubonnaire, and East Coast roads. In the late 1970's the Ministry of Community Development, aided by the Rockefeller Foundation, had built two swimming pools in the area - one adjacent to the playing field, the other near the banana-boxing plant - but these were no longer in use due to inoperative pumps.

The main commercial activities in the Project area were small grocery and rum shops. Most of the shops also sold school supplies such as exercise books and pens. Altogether there were only three regular groceries. Area residents did much of their household shopping in Castries, where prices and services tended to be better.

Except for a privately-run pre-school (for 2-5 year-olds) at the St. Paul's Church Centre, there were no schools within the Project area. However, there was an infant school within walking distance at Riche Fond. The students at this school came from Riche Fond, Grand Riviere, Delaide (La Caye), and surrounding communities. All students walked to the school, a recently built, modern, well-furnished building with recreation space inside and outside the compound. Most of the students who completed infant schooling at Riche Fond, including those from the Project area, attended either the La Ressource Primary School, about three miles away, or the girls' primary and boys' primary at Dennery, about five miles away. A small number of Project-area students attended secondary schools in Castries.

There was no hospital within the Project area, although two health centers were located outside the area at Riche Fond and La Ressource. The staffs consisted of a resident nurse who was a qualified midwife, one environmental health aide, three community health aides, one nursing assistant, and a public health inspector whose responsibilities covered the entire valley.

Two important local community organizations were the Farmers' Action Group and a Fathers and Mothers Development Group. Both promoted self-help and unity within the communities and advocated farmers' needs in the area.

A.2 Agricultural Activities

In the early 1960s Morne Panache was considered "unproductive", with only 10 percent of the area cultivated in bananas, coconuts, and breadfruit. Farming was mainly subsistence-oriented, consisting of such food crops as dasheen, tannia, and yams.

People who occupied lands in the 1960s did so because of known family ties, rather than through legal inheritance. In most cases the legal owners had died or migrated abroad, leaving no legal title to any specific heir. Consequently, relatives who occupied the lands could not separate or allocate land parcels to persons entitled by inheritance. (This situation still exists in certain areas in Morne Panache.)

In the 1970s serious problems posed by this kind of tenure prompted investigations by certain family members to ascertain who should possess legal title. Without title, the owner could not mortgage or sell the land, nor collect rent from persons occupying the land. Such investigations, requiring a laborious deed search by a legal practitioner, were too expensive for most people.

The following sections describe the main features of the current farming activities as found by the Project extension officer in his work with the farmers.

A.2.1 General Characteristics

The small-farming population in the Project area was more or less stable at 160 farmers and mostly middle-aged or older (23.3 percent of the farmers were over 60) , possessing a wealth of farming experience on the lands they currently occupied. Their agricultural practices had changed little in recent years; more than 90 percent were doing nothing new in the way of land use or cropping patterns. The only innovations worth mentioning centred around fertilizer use, pest control, and some not very extensive soil and water conservation measures, including the construction of graded drains and contour drains, the planting of tree crops, and, to a smaller degree, reforestation and indiscriminate felling of trees. Those who had accepted these changes said that they had been persuaded to do so by the agricultural extension officer.

Twenty percent of the farmers stated that they practiced some form of crop rotation. 47.1 percent stated that they kept land fallow. The reasons these farmers gave for keeping land fallow were: lack of money, low production season, prevention of land exhaustion, no market, and the fact that the land was a part of the Forest Reserve. About a third (36.4 percent) said they engaged in some form of intercropping, but it should be noted that non-systematic intercropping also existed - single-parcel gardens in scattered areas away from the main fields.

Almost every farmer cited marketing as the principal problem hindering production efficiency. The other factors mentioned were: agricultural credit (cited by 37.7 percent); lack of labour (15.1 percent), insufficient land (11.5 percent), poor price structure (7.5 percent), accessibility (13 percent), and poor drainage (5.7 percent). These factors alone did not fully account for the small farmers' plight; other factors included insecure tenure, crop pests and disease, timeliness and high cost of acquiring inputs, topography, and soil type.

A.2.2 Production and Marketing

The decline of the sugar-cane industry during the Depression of the 1930s and the restrictions on overseas trade during World war II contributed to the emergence of banana exports as the leading sector of the national economy.27

27 Latin American Bureau, op. cit., pp. 29-44.

The introduction of bananas in 1956 and a steady outlet for the crop, coupled with low prices and irregular markets for other crops, resulted in the directing of all farming efforts towards banana cultivation. From January to June 1983 banana production in the area amounted to 1,638 tons. The boxing plant received a total of 114,468 cartons, 80 percent of them from the Project area. Theobald Estate (also in the area) produced 858 cartons per fortnight during the same period.

Coconuts ranked second in economic importance and in terms of land use. According to a survey made by an extension worker in 1982, copra production during the preceding year totaled approximately 25 tons. Cocoa ranked third, production having increased considerably during the year prior to the survey. Citrus, avocado, yams, and dasheen followed in importance, then plantain and breadfruit. Farmer grew many additional crops ere grown in the area, but these were insignificant. Most of the bananas and coconuts were sold as cash crops, whereas food crops were grown primarily for home consumption and the local market.

Nearly all the marketing of food crops was done by women, who also participated actively in weeding and fertilizing. Men were in charge of land preparation, planting, and harvesting. The young did not play any major role in agriculture except in harvesting.

A.2.3 Livestock

Only about 10 percent of the farmers raised animals for commercial purposes. Stock was fattened throughout the year for slaughter at Christmas. There was only one organized pig unit in the area. The majority of the farmers scattered their stock (cattle, sheep, goats) wherever they could find grazing land.

A.2.4 Marketing and Processing

Bananas, coconuts, and cocoa enjoyed assured markets. The bananas were sold in Great Britain through Geest Industries. At the time of the survey some farmers were doing their own field packing and others took the bananas to the boxing plant.

Copra was sold to the Coconut Growers Association and sent to the plant at Soufriere for processing. Cocoa was sold at the community level to a local buyer, who in turn sold the cocoa to the Agriculturalist Association; because of field neglect over the years and the increasing emphasis on bananas, very few of the farmers could produce the minimum quantity necessary for selling direct to the Association.

There was no established outlet for yams, dasheen, vegetables, and other crops. Attempts to find buyers in the community, at the Castries Market, or at the hotels and supermarkets were usually unsuccessful. Now that an agro-processing unit had been established in the area, a policy to create a link between the unit and the farming community was being vigorously pursued: farmers were being encouraged to plant on the basis of the needs of the unit. Farmers complained about the poor distribution and marketing systems, which had led many of them to decrease their acreage or stop growing certain crops.

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